Monday, January 21, 2008

"What did YOU do?"

I spent some time on Sunday morning out at the Plainfield Re-Entry Educational Facility, a DOC program that works with offenders in the last 6 months to 2 years of their incarceration, preparing them for their transition back into "the real world" with vocational training and education.

Each Sunday they offer a worship service for the offenders, and Mary Z. Longstreth, one of the folks who works in prison ministries here in the city, invited me to attend. There were about 40 men in attendance at worship, and for the first ten or fifteen minutes, I found myself wondering about the pasts of the men in the pews around me.

"What did you do...?" I wondered. "What did you do that landed you up in here?" Of course, as we proceeded through worship, I learned that, beyond their past, these men were good singers, or talented musicians, or excellent pray-ers, or skilled encouragers, or supportive listeners, or whatever -- and I never learned what a single one of them had done to end up in prison, even though I remained curious about their lives.

They had gathered in the Chapel for any number of reasons, but they were there. And they were glad they were there and I was glad I was there, because Mary Z. brought another friend with her -- a man who had been incarcerated starting at age 14, but who had been released from prison five years ago. Kenneth shared his story and encouraged the men to "love God with all ya got" and to prepare for their lives on the outside with hope and high expectations. He didn't use notes or seem to have practiced his testimony, but Kenneth could have led worship in any church in the city.

I'm pretty sure what I witnessed was "proclaiming freedom to the captives" -- and I had the opportunity to look beyond the literal definition of "captive," too.

On the drive home, I started thinking about how we treat each other "on the outside" and what it means to be forgiving. At the prison, I knew that there was a big "What did you do?" on each of the men I was interacting with -- but I know that I've committed some major screw-ups in my life, too -- we all have. I'm grateful for the grace of God and others -- the grace that looks past "What did you do?" and sees "Who are you today, right here and right now?" Kenneth was proclaiming freedom to the 40 offenders Sunday morning, but he was also procaliming freedom to me.

My prayer is that I'll always remember Sunday morning and forget "What did you do?"

1 comment:

Esmerelda said...

I volunteer Saturday afternoons at the jail in my town. I co-facilitate a women's writing circle. I never ask what the women did to get there. But I feel it is sort of implied that everyone is there because of drugs and drug related crimes. It pervades everything we do. I am always humbled by the experience.

Nice blog...

Esme