Posts Tagged ‘jail’

I wondered, ‘what in the world are we are thinking‘. And wished I wasn’t part of the we. But if I haven’t made a strong voice against, then I am still in the main stream, am I not? Flowing deeper and deeper down, matching all the other drops around me.

Broken systems need to be fixed. And not just because they take too many tax dollars (though I’ve been guilty of using that to help motivate the masses before). Broken systems don’t need to be fixed once an easy solution is available or just because we are finally personally affected. They don’t need to be fixed because of any political movement.

They need to be fixed because lives, human lives, depend on it. I spend a fair amount of time in jail and I see people both come and go and come again and go again. I see those incarcerated, the corrections officers, volunteers and the visitors. A while back I saw a toddler hiding under the chairs in the main waiting room refusing to leave after visiting his Mama. No child should wish for jail. But that is what we have taught him as a society to do. Once a week, for one hour he gets to visit his Mom. When the car he is in drives past the jail on other outings he will scream for her. He loves her. He sees her face first, and not her crime. He remembers something so many of us have forgotten. She is a person. She is valuable. She is worth loving and she is loved. oscar-courage

I challenge you to remember today that no person is a number. No person is just bad. People do bad things. People make mistakes. People act out in their pain. Some get caught. Some get labeled. Some get forgotten. That needs to change. All people should be loved. “It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all of its tainted glory, and still to love it.”  – Oscar Wilde

img_8514To the people of Calvary Church and Shelby,

My name is Michael and I’m currently housed in the Centre County Correctional Facility. I’ve been incarcerated since March of 2015. I was 18 years old then, now I’m 20 and approaching my release date. I’m currently sentenced to 23 months and 29 days. As I’ve spent time here I started my journey of recovery. My drugs of choice are heroin and bath salts.

Recently I have been introduced to the Bible, the book of God. I’ve been familiar with the 12 steps of NA and I was able to get a recovery Bible. I’m a new believer and I read my Bible and pray every day. My faith is a little rocky but as I continue my journey God seems to send signs of strength to me. I’ve spent 2 Christmas holidays in jail, the first was a hassle and I was not sure how to respond to an act of kindness from people I don’t know. Calvary Church sent Christmas bags and it was the first time I felt like I mattered. I’ve felt that I didn’t matter, that a convicted felon was forgotten even though I’m a person with a family and hopes and dreams.

I’m older now and I’ve grown and matured mentally, emotionally and physically. I’ve taught myself to appreciate the small things and remain grateful for all things. I would like to say I am grateful for Calvary Church. I’m grateful for the gifts they sent all of the inmates. I’m grateful for all the time, money, and effort that was put into making the Christmas bags possible. It means a lot to me that total strangers put together gifts for people who are often shunned and looked down upon by society. It hurts to say that but it’s the truth. I committed my crime as a minor and was charged as an adult. I made a mistake because I needed to support a habit. As a 17 year old kid I wasn’t able to worry about the consequences of my actions. I’m really grateful that God has put me through these tough times so I could grow. If it weren’t for God I would not be writing this letter of thanks and gratefulness. Thank you Calvary Church for all that you do for us inmates. I’ve already met one member (Shelby) and I’d like to meet more. 

Sincerely, Michael

*His name has been changed and spelling corrected, but otherwise this is just a copy of what I received. Since it was addressed to the whole church I thought this was the best way to get it out to the most people. Thanks to everyone who was a part of this…there are way too many people who gave that I cannot reach you all and am so very grateful.

Kids these days are different.
Systems these days are broken.
Some always have been.
But they don’t always have to be.

When I was born I nursed at my mother’s breast.
One of my friends just had a baby, but they are not together because she is in jail.

When I was one I saw both parents in my home every day.
My friend has a one year old who she sees for an hour every other week when her daughter is brought to the jail for a visit.

When I was two I tried to run away (but couldn’t open the door), because my parents wanted me to be safe and wouldn’t let me play on the stairs.
One of my friend’s kids are out of county with her in-laws and she cannot reach them now because she’s in jail, and if nothing changes she cannot be with them when she gets out because she’s not supposed to leave the county on probation.

When I was three I moved to a new house with my family.
One of my friends signed her three year up for an Angel Tree Christmas present to be delivered, because she will be in jail for many more years and her daughter has been adopted into a new home and family.

When I was four life was great, I had dolls and toys and dates with my mom while my sister was at school.
One of my friends was not allowed to talk to her kids for several months until CPS changed their minds and now she can call home from jail and at least talk to them on the phone while she waits for her trial and for the courts to decide if she is guilty or innocent.

When I was five I went to kindergarten and loved my teacher.
One of my friends has a son in kindergarten who hides under the table, swears at his teacher and asks for his mom.

When I was six I had my first real birthday party and all my friends came over.
One of my friends has a six year old in the hospital because he tried to take his own life.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. I am by no means saying that these six women are innocent. Nor do I think they would all make the best mothers (some sure would). But I do think this…our system is broken. We are not helping these kids by throwing their moms in jail and forgetting about them. Maybe, just maybe, there is another way, that we haven’t tried yet.

Like I said before.
Kids these days are different.
Systems these days are broken.
Some always have been.
But they don’t always have to be.
Will you take one step towards changing them?
Will you make a difference?

cant-waitHave you ever gotten a note from a friend and it said, “I can’t wait to see you!”? I have. Usually I like them. (I love mail) And sometimes they come in other forms, I got a voicemail the other night that was stating how it had been too long and we needed to get together. While the distance is kind of sad, knowing they are excited to see me makes it overall feel happy.

But today I got a note that said the same, “I can’t wait to see you!” and it made my heart so sad…

Today I got notes from multiple friends who I used to see every week. We went through a lot of emotions together. We cried. We laughed. We planned. We prayed. And I haven’t seen for quite some time. But I saw them again today. You guessed it. Today was a jail day. Sadly they are back on the inside. I loved seeing them. But I wished it was different. I wished I could hug them. I wished we could be creating halloween costumes for their kids. I wished we could go get coffee, go on a hike, see a movie, really anything other than sit in my office and face the question…”can you believe I’m here?”. Ugh. Sigh. Some days it’s hard to see friends. But it’s still worth it.

“So I have one friend?” she asked me nervously.
“Yes,” I answered confidently, “I am your friend.”

This conversation happened in the jail (like most of the ones that make the blog). We were talking about how scary the idea of getting out of jail was. How hard it would be to start over since her husband was divorcing her and she couldn’t go back home after this. Since her addiction had kept her from building any positive relationships in the past. Since she didn’t have custody of her children. Since she wasn’t sure what her relationship with her parents was anymore.

She asked how to make friends. She could do it in a bar, she said, but followed that thought up with the fact that she couldn’t go to a bar because she knew if she took one drink of alcohol all her hard work of staying sober would come crashing down. She knew she still doesn’t have the power to stop after one drink or to say no if offered a drink. She knows if she wants to stay healthy she cannot be around it at all.

“I’m your friend.” I said, and then continued with my list of friend making ideas, “You can go to the park, the library, the same coffee shop every week,” I told her. She said she loved the library but didn’t know how to start talking to people. “You can come with me to church and I can introduce you to people there.” It was here she stopped me to ask about my first statement. “So I have one friend?” It was so meekly asked that I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to say, of course you do and I know so many more who would love to be your friend. I know the people who don’t care what your past holds and how many more times you mess up. I know the people who will love you with Jesus’ love. But I knew that would be too overwhelming, so instead I gave her a simple yes. “Yes, I am your friend.” And I hope and pray that one day she has so many more.

There are days that feel like they were made for collapsing  into someone’s arms and weeping on their shoulder. Yesterday was one of them. Another  14+ hour day of work totalling the work week somewhere around 85 hours meant that my emotions were about at their end before the day even started, but I continued to put them to the test.

In the jail, I met with three different women for an hour each. (I met with seven other women in between those three, just not for quite such long periods of time.) The three women spent much of their hour with me in tears. One walked in and said hello, handed me some books she was returning and sat down. I glanced down to mark which books she’d brought and by the time I glanced back up she was weeping.IMG_5983

“They say addiction takes everything…”
“My life is over.”
“What am I going to do?”
“Everything is gone.”
“My life is over.”
“What can I do?”
“I left everything I knew and now it’s all gone.”
“My life is over.”

Now repeat that for an hour. Adding in a few personal details here and there. And pausing long enough for her eyes to stare into mine through the tears and beg for an answer that will fix it, but not long enough to wait for any answer I could give.

Some days I just hate my job.

I don’t hate that I do it. I hate that it’s needed. I hate that so much pain exists. I hate that there’s no one else who can listen to her. I hate that I’m not actually trained. I hate that people tell me I’m so strong when they find out what I do…because I’m not.

Sure, I kept it together while I listened, but I went home and sobbed.

While it is hard, I love that I get to meet these women. I love that I get paid to be kind. And to share the only hope that keeps me walking into the depths of these stories over and over again. Jesus. I could not face the darkness each day if it wasn’t for His love. God has proven over and over in my life that while He doesn’t promise to make all days good, He promises to be with us in spite of the bad. And He is a redeemer…nothing and no one is too broken for God to redeem. In spite of the hard days, I am so glad I get a front row seat into stories of God’s grace regularly.

After the awkward introduction with a new girl where I couldn’t shake her hand because we aren’t allowed to touch:

“How are you doing?” I tried to ask soothingly.
“I was caged alive for 7 months.” she said despondently as she stared into my eyes.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“That must feel really scary.” I settled on. (At this point I still wasn’t sure if she meant she’d been in jail for 7 months, been in solitary confinement for 7 months, or she had somehow been held captive before jail.) I’m not sure I ever really figured it out, but she went on. She told me how great her life was and then she paused:

“Then he went off and died on me.” she said as the tears started to flow.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“Who was it that died again?” I asked, trying to pretend I just missed his name when really I was incredibly confused by the conversation… She went on to talk about addiction, loss, and through the tears our conversation continued to be very confusing. I can only imagine how confused her heart must be feeling tonight.

After joining the ladies for our PB&J lunch on the block another new girl asked to speak with me. She said she had court yesterday and it was hard to process. Noticing her eyes filling with tears I quickly promised I’d call her out to talk one on one instead of at the table with all the other girls listening in:

“So what happened at court?” I asked.
“If I get more than a year they are going to adopt out my daughter,” she sobbed.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“That must feel really scary.” I settled on again. This has honestly become my go to phrase. Sometimes there’s just no way to fix it. There are no words to say. We still can’t touch, so no hugs to give. Nothing I can do but acknowledge the emotion. And sit in the pain with her.

We talked about adoption. How there was no one in her life she would trust with her sweet daughter because the people closest to her did drugs. How she knew adoption was good, but that this girl was a part of her. She wasn’t for someone else. I can only imagine how scared her heart is feeling tonight.

On to the next and the story goes like this:

“So you heard my big news?” she asked cynically.
“I’m so sorry.” I replied, knowing she was referring to the loss of her mother.
“This is torture.” she said flatly.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

Again, no words were fitting. I had a hard day yesterday when my mom flew to another country but is still only a phone call away. We reminisced on stories of her mom. How she was her best friend. That she would miss the funeral. Though she was struggling throughout the whole conversation she was grateful that her mom was finally out of pain. I can only imagine how much her heart is hurting tonight.

IMG_5657I think it’s these conversations that make me dislike TV so much. I have a hard time sitting back and separating these stories from the stories in the shows even when they are so very different. I hear the phrase “New Girl” and I think of all the new girls I met today and their stories. I hear “Orange is the New Black” and think about what all the different colors of clothing mean in jail. I hear “House of Cards” and think about the odd politics and manipulation that goes on between the girls in there. I just can’t get their sweet faces out of my mind.

But I also see so much good. I get to see the girls who care about each other as well as they can in the middle of these broken situations. I hear about the gratitude lists that are being made each day. The many people who start their mornings reading the Jesus Calling book we were able to give out for Christmas and then choose to face the day with hope. The counselors who squeeze as much work into their time there as possible. The COs who stop many fights before they begin. The excited updates of girls who have gotten out. The constant requests of prayers for loved ones. I know it’s hard to imagine their lives, but if you believe in God, would you lift up a prayer for these girls? I’m sure their hearts could use it tonight. 

When I asked to go into the jail 2 years ago I had no idea what that would bring. I thought maybe I’d just teach a class and get to meet some people and whatnot. That’d be cool. I didn’t know I’d become a chaplain, the “party planner”, and the random girl in “street clothes” that eats lunch on the block every Thursday.

I didn’t know that I would start running the Angel Tree program at Calvary to provide Christmas presents to local kids with incarcerated parents. I didn’t know I’d get to bring in a small library to share with everyone. Or that I’d raise a couple thousand dollars and lead a church wide candy bar drive to be able to give presents for each inmate in our local jail for two years now. I didn’t know people on the outside would tell me stories of impact from their loved ones on the inside who received our gifts.

I didn’t know I’d decorate cards with men and woman who would send them to their kids, parents, lovers, and friends around the holidays hoping to not be forgotten. I didn’t know I’d listen and pray with women who signed their kids over for adoption. I didn’t know I’d recruit others to go in and lead events and classes. I didn’t know I’d hear about so much death and the many lost loved ones in these people’s lives. I didn’t know I’d launch a community mentoring program to help people adjust back into life after jail.

I didn’t know I’d become a penpal with someone on the inside. I didn’t know I’d make real friends who have left that place and now I get to see in street clothes sometimes. I definitely didn’t know or even hope that I’d get put in touch with people who live 4 hours away because their son is in our jail and they need help knowing what to do and who to contact. I never expected to hug a random stranger who cried on my shoulder as she thanked me for caring about her son and acknowledging that this was hard and embarrassing, but it didn’t define her. I knew God called me to go into that jail, but there was so much I didn’t know. I keep dreaming of more, but there is still so much I still don’t know. That’s just one reason I keep following after Jesus as He leads me into more and more incredible adventures beyond my wildest dreams.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Dream-Big

“Happy birthday!” I told her. No present though. Not a cake and ice cream, or even a card or a hug. She told me instead how it’s a stressful day with people detoxing and in bad moods on the block. Not your typical birthday party.

“I finally heard from my fiancé,” she said. I was glad to know he wasn’t dead because she had been nervous that he might be. “He’s with another woman now.” She said as if that’s what she deserved since she was in jail.

“I lost a daughter 10 years ago.” She said seemingly unrelated to our conversation. So then we talked about that. We talked about how 11 days before her due date the baby stopped moving. The cord had wrapped around her neck and then she had to deliver a dead baby. She talked about how she knew it was dead, but still had hope it would wake up and cry. How she held her sweet daughter for two hours before saying goodbye. Today she cried. She said she hasn’t cried the whole time she’s been in jail, and that she needed this. It’s amazing how long it can take us before we are willing to talk about the pain in our past.

“I was clean for two and a half years,” she said as the tears started to flow. “But I came back here and I used and I can’t remember Sunday through Thursday…I don’t know what I did. I feel so ashamed. Did I sleep with people for money? I can’t remember. Then when I was sober again and I got picked up for something else and brought back to jail.”

“I didn’t call or anything, I just stood her up,” she said about visiting her four year old daughter who now lives with a different family since she was taken away as a baby when her Mama was addicted to heroin. “I know she was there wondering, ‘Where is my Mommy? Why didn’t see come?’.” This woman is left hoping her daughter knows she loves her even when she’s failed to show it.

5 stories. All hard. Jail stories are hard. Sadly, these are just one day. Every day has so many stories. And they’re hard. It makes my heart happy that Jesus offers hope. I could never go in and hear about this pain again and again without having hope of redemption.

For starters lets talk about things Jesus didn’t say, “Take my yolk upon you.” Gross. That makes absolutely no sense. But today more than one girl I talked to thought that the Bible said just that.

yolk

Today I went to jail, as I always do on Thursdays. I usually print out and bring in a little daily meditation that comes to my email everyday. It starts with a verse, has a short devotion, and ends with a prayer. Today the verse was, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

The most common response after reading the meditations each week is, “How did you know that was exactly what I needed to hear?” That’s what I expected again. In my mind this made sense. But to many of my friends it didn’t. We’d read it and pause. “Can you explain this to me?” they’d ask. “Well, do you know what a yoke is?” I said. “Like, an egg?” they asked. “Nope.” Jesus doesn’t want us to egg people’s houses, He wants us to follow Him and let Him share our load. I guess with all the modern technology kids these days only know about tractors and not farming with cows.

yoke-of-oxen