Man, that's an intimidating place!! It's scary! It's sad! Surely, it has to be horrifying... and lonely! I can't imagine living there. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy!
I had the privilege today of talking to about 130 prisoners after walking through a multitude of other inmates to get to them. It felt like God was having to part the seas in order to get me there. The officer escorting me through them kept saying, "Part to the sides, everybody. Part to the sides." There were so many guys that I secretly wondered if I didn't need extra escorts? I was told that they're way under-staffed. Ratio: Two hundred inmates to one officer! (Yikes!) Can I say it again? It was extremely intimidating! And scary! I mean, really, I kept looking around and wondering where all the officers were? And wondering if they would quickly scurry out from some hidden somewhere if needed. Let's just say, if it weren't for God, I wouldn't have been brave enough to enter.
This particular prison houses about 1,300 inmates, about double the number it was originally built to hold. It’s primary mission is the provision of mental health services. It's surrounded by a double 18-foot tall chain link fence topped with razor ribbon wire and reinforced by an electronic security system. The two massive gates and the fantastically HEAVY metal door that you're buzzed through before actually finally getting into the building almost makes you want to turn around and run, before ever getting in (Trust me, the picture doesn't do it justice!). The search after handing over your keys and your license is a very humiliating moment, and not one you want to live often. It gets serious real quick... as if I didn't take it seriously enough already.
Then.. walking through one barred gate after another while you hear the clank before and behind you is another matter. One that I'm getting more familiar with, but one that I don't think I'll ever get used to! The hall is LONG! I mean, really LONG! With dorms on either side. Every so many feet there were guards locked behind a brick walled, shatter-proof glassed encasement (a control center). That in itself, made it seem more serious. I don't at all envy their positions.
Now, after somewhat painting the scenery, what can I say about the visit?
I don't know. Words are too hard. Some things can't be capsuled in mere letters no matter how many you try to string together, or how many adjectives you use in an effort to color it into a picture. They lack. They're too weak. They won't suffice. No words will fit!
Everything about the place is degrading. Everything! No privacy anywhere. Shamed from both fellow inmates and officers alike. Humilation from every angle. It's hard place. A dirty place. A mean place. A depressing one.
I grew up on a farm. We had horses and lots of cows. We were always getting the cows up, herding them into the pen, then funneling them into a small shoot... in order to give them shots, or pierce their ears (tag em), and sometimes brand them. For some reason, seeing those guys having to line up and wait their turn and shuffle slowly from this place to that... it reminded me of the cows we had. It didn't seem right. Grown adult men in lines... just didn't look right. It made me sad.
But... I digress...
I feel it went as well as it could have. A praise song was sung by four talented inmates before the thing actually started. They listened. They laughed. They nodded. They amened. They gave me what appeared to be their undivided attention. They seem to understand and hear me. I told them when through that I was pulling for them and praying for them. That I hoped they defied the 78% statistic that predicts that 78% of them will be incarcerated again once let out and released. I told them that I hope they make something of themselves. That they learn from where they've been and that they turn and help someone else. I reminded them that God can redeem anything! He can... and He does... and He wants to! In order to Glorify Himself so that others can see His wonder.............
Forgive me. I'm not doing a good job here. I only want to cry! I want to cry because of where those guys have been, because of what's been done to them, because of what they've done to someone else, and because of all the odds against them once they walk out. The odds are so against them... even under the best circumstances! God is able to do anything! Heal anything! Ransom, redeem, and restore anything. Free us from anything. Bring beauty from any ashes! But we have to be willing to let Him!
Honestly... today was too big..... I know I said a lot, without saying much. I am so at a loss of words! I didn't say what I want to. I don't know how to say it. I guess it's times like these when you groan in prayer with your utterances... so then the Spirit intercedes and says for you what you don't know to ("for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered" - Rom 8:26).
I think I'm going to bed... and I'll cry. I don't know them, but I love them. I still see their faces! Today I saw true captives that I didn't want held captive! Today, I left surely feeling a tiny glimpse of what my Savior feels and understanding more why Jesus died to set them free!