Locked in Solidarity: How Visiting Jail Changed Me
Why did I begin going to visit inmates at the jail? Some of my reasons were okay: Jesus said, “I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matt. 25:36) Some were practical: I have free time in my schedule. Some were prideful: Can I be vetted as a jail chaplain? Some were just plain wrong: I can convince people to believe like I believe.
I quickly discovered that jail is a place you surrender control over where you can go, who you can talk to, when you can offer a Bible study, and how much time you can spend with inmates. All these things are decided by others who rarely give their reasons. Jail is a place where many inmates know a lot about the Bible and are eager to debate what you think you know; where many are desperate for someone to listen to their stories. It is a place where you see things you wish you had not seen, and hear things you wish you had not heard. It is a place where you constantly bend over to speak with inmates through narrow tray slots and see only their eyes; and where the noise level makes it difficult to think. By the time I leave the jail I am exhausted and emotionally spent. In my mind I can still see rows of cells with inmates knocking on the reinforced glass of their tiny windows and hear them calling out, “Chaplain, do you have an address book?” “Chaplain, do you have any rosaries?” “Chaplain, do you have a minute?”
Knowing now what it’s like to visit the jail, I can only return if I rethink my reasons for going. And that’s not hard. No place causes me to pray constantly and to rely on the Holy Spirit in every moment like the jail. No place prompts me to reflect on my own sin and examine my own heart like the jail. And there is no other place where my presence is all that is asked of me—an offering for which inmates express profound gratitude.
This year we are joining CCDA's efforts to create the space needed to listen to stories of people in our communities who are directly impacted, to learn about the greater impact of mass incarceration, to pray, and to engage public sector officials who have the power and position to impact change. Check out their resources here.
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