I always have to review my motives. I am born-again, but I live in a world where almost everyone has some kind of agenda. I want to be a fully-devoted follower of Christ, and this requires extreme honesty.
We went to a medium-security prison recently as part of our church's ministry. I had volunteered originally because I was hoping to learn some media techniques to help me in my wonderful weight-loss presentations of the future. As I got more serious about it and got my husband involved, I began to get a little afraid. I had never been to a prison before, and I was terrified of being locked in. As far as the inmates were concerned, I felt like they would be awed by my self-sacrificing, Christi-like behavior. As Bugs Bunny would say, "What a maroon!"
You should know up front that donuts were involved. We took donuts in the Name of Jesus, and they were received in the name of Sugar Lust. Yes, the guards got some donuts, too. And, no, the prison did not stink.
There is a lot of waiting involved when visiting a prison. We called the guard with the buzzer outside and waited. We were let into the area between outside and totally inside the prison (the word "purgatory" comes to mind), locked in, and waited. Then we were let inside the prison building and waited. The guard came and instructed us to remove shoes and belts, then we waited. The guard told us to go through the metal-detector doorway and wait. The men were patted down and all of us had the detector wand waved over us. We also had to show the bottoms of our feet. We put our shoes back on and waited. We went to the bathroom which had no paper because that had been visiting day. I think this was the longest wait because an inmate got sick and had to be taken out a different way. Our experienced prison visitor, a lady, took one of our two badges issued by the Department of Corrections (after a background check and a day's instructions) and presented all of them to an inner guard sitting behind a little bank-teller type window. We waited until the guard checked our names off and made notes. We could see the inmates now, waiting on the other side of the door from us. They were in the yard looking very hopeful and expectant.
Finally, that last door was open and we were in the yard with the inmates. One of them yelled, "Looks like a bunch of Christians to me!" and I laughed a little nervously. Each of us ladies was supposed to have a lady buddy who stayed with us at all times. My buddy (since I am Bunny, let's call her Squirrel) and I, as well as another lady with no buddy (?) were somehow assigned coffee duty. The people next to us, a man and woman, were putting one donut each on a napkin for the inmates as they entered the visiting room/sanctuary. (By the way, these two were very serious about the donuts. I have never seen donut-distributing people look so intense.) The job of the coffee people was to put coffee into the cups provided, ask if they want cream or "sugar" (read: stuff in blue packets), put the cream and/or sweetish substance in the coffee for them, give them a stirrer, and send them on their merry way. So, with a donut in one hand and coffee in the other, they usually crossed the entry towards the greeters. My dear husband (DH) was one of the greeters and he was awesome--very friendly, understanding, and kind. The other two greeters were a male and female who appeared to have the same sweet spirits as my DH. From the greeters, the inmates proceeded to the main portion of the room. They could talk, wait, munch, drink, etc, or listen to "hip" churchy music.
When it was almost time for the service to start, the women all had to sit down in the front two rows and get settled. There were some announcements from the church inmate pastor, who had a beautiful glow on his face, as so many of the inmates did. There were five songs, but I only knew one: the Revelation "Holy, Holy, Holy", which is inspiring to say the least. I let my whole heart get into the music and forgot my fear of the razor wire, locked doors, and confinement. It was just another Sunday having church with my brothers and sisters in Christ. We were completely surrounded by the Cloud of the Spirit, and His presence was more obvious to me than in an actual church building.
Two guards came in to take roll call sometime during the service. It seemed to take forever, but the guards went as quickly as they could. They seemed to be fairly good-humored.
We listened to the message of my pastor which had been recorded earlier in the day and brought with us to the prison. Then, my DH and some other men went forward to be available for prayer. The inmates were invited forward to ask for prayer. I felt so surrounded by Love, Peace, and Grace. One lady said later that she looked up at one point and saw the five prayer partners each praying with an inmate with his hand on the shoulder of the inmate. It looked like the perfection of true man-love and brought several women to tears.
Around this time, Squirrel started getting restless. She decided that the pray-ers needed more privacy, so she got up to "mingle" which, being her buddy, left me no choice but to be a mingle-minder. Now, we ladies were not told to keep our seats until the service was over, but none of the other ladies were getting up. Squirrel got in very, very close to the inmates and "worked the crowd" like a seasoned politician. I kept looking back to the other ladies and feeling that Squirrel and I were somehow not okay. The inmates were polite and gentlemanly to us, but I made an executive decision.
"Squirrel, I don't think we should be doing this. I'm sitting down." Therefore, Squirrel had to go back to the other ladies, too. She immediately went to ask a lady leader, who agreed with me.
In the meantime, the guards had gotten spooked by something, so after the praying was completely over, all the ladies had to line up with our backs to the wall while the inmates were led away. Then we went back through most of the series of doors and decompressed in the prison lobby while waiting for the guard. We were finally let out, meeting another church group going in, and started home.
The take-away was, I had been unknowingly having a rotten attitude about this visit. I had been so ready to impress the inmates. But they were not impressed with me. They were appreciative of me and very impressed with God. They were impressed that God had led our hearts to visit them, they were impressed that God loves them so much, they were impressed that God had not forgotten them, and they were impressed with our big Brother, Jesus's, great sacrifice for us. The inmates impressed me: they have been rejected and done so much rejecting in their lives, yet they believe in the love of God, His forgiveness, and His power of reconciliation. Some of them had never known true human love, yet they are becoming truly loving, forgiving people because of allowing God to love and change them.
These inmates are God's children whose sins were provable and punishable by law. I am God's child whose sins are mostly only known by God and not punishable by law. Other than those facts, we are the same.