Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Going to Prison

Have you ever had one of those nights, where you laid your head on the pillow to sleep but your mind would not allow it?  One of those nights, where thoughts of unfinished or anticipated business kept you awake?  Me too, as recent as a couple of nights ago.

Part of my bed time routine is to read a chapter in each of the books I have on the go. I was re-reading Tony Campolo and Gordon Aeschliman's book "Everybody wants to change the world - practical ideas for Social Justice" That night's chapter was on "Prisoners - Befriending the Outcast", it wasn't long into my reading, when the shaking finger of self realization jarred me out of my state of apathy.

I have a close acquaintance who is in prison, has been for quite some time, and will not be eligible for parole for many more years.  The thought has crossed my mind more than once, to visit.  In fact, this acquaintance had sent me a letter and visitation application form in 2007 requesting that I do just that.  Many excuses and emotions have kept me from actually following through, including, the ramifications for others; distance; lack of time; uncomfortability; anger; fear etc. Plus I never particularly liked this person, of course I recognized the positives in them but we were never best buds.

After reading just the first few paragraphs of the chapter, I was becoming more and more convinced that I could not, nor should not put it off any longer.  The pages seemed to read like a script out of a made for TV movie.

"...add the fear and loneliness of being completely removed from anyone who cares about you.  Add physical harm.  Add the loss of respect and dignity, the inability to provide for your family, and the vulnerability of wondering if a special loved one will meet someone else.  Add a prison record to the resume and the inability to vote again - a loss of the basic right to citizenship.  Add the pure impotence of not being able to make anything out of your life.  Some people live this way because of a couple days' experimentation with drugs.  Other people live this way because of a joyride in someone else's car or a $50 heist that went awry and left someone dead."

Please do not misunderstand me, reading this did not make me feel sorry for them to the point, that I believe in the slightest, that they should not continue to stay behind bars and serve the penalty they have been tendered. The suffering that inmates experience, is in part, of their own doing and not to be compared to that of the victims and their families, or the suffering that the families of the prisoners have to endure.  However, within me has welled up a sense of call and some compassion,  that is leading me to honour their request.

In the letter that was sent to me, they shared their experience of having come into a personal relationship with Jesus and their desire to live a life transformed.  I ignored that letter for over 2 years.  Even though I know God can transform lives, part of me was doubtful, thinking it a cliche jail house conversion, or a desperate attempt to eventually get back what they have lost.  Yet the letter seemed sincere, certainly well versed in scripture.  My sin was evident, in the sharp judgment of the validity, of that experience.

Campollo reminds us that "We ourselves have not been dealt with according to our sins but have experienced the mercy of Calvary.  We received this mercy not because we were reformed, but because we could not reform ourselves.  We continue to commit sins against others and God - malice, deceit and immorality - but we continually experience a patient God who guides us back to the right path with the compassion of a loving parent."

I am reminded of Romans 8:1-3 "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature,God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,"

As I prepare to visit, I pray, that this individual has indeed been reformed by the power of God and that when it is time for them to be released that they will continue to place their trust in God regardless of where they find themselves.  Furthermore I pray that this visitation and any possible future visitation will help to bring peace and  healing to all involved.   

...I filled out the application this morning, included 2 passport pics of myself and drove to the prison.  It was a strange feeling driving up to the big house, that I can't much describe.  I think the anticipation of going in, had me a wee bit disconcerted.  I could not find where I was suppose to park and I certainly did not want to park illegally and risk the tow.  I drove pass two correctional officers, so on my way back I stopped, rolled down the window and asked them where to park if I wanted to drop something off.  They asked what I was dropping off, to which I replied a visitation application.  They offered to take it in for me and as I passed them the forms they mentioned it would be a 4-6 week processing time.  Well that wasn't so bad ;)

"I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." Matthew 25:36

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