I realized something recently.

An only child, I grew up always longing for a sibling. I have wonderful memories of aunts and uncles and cousins getting together regularly for reunions. The warmth of family, and that wonderful feeling of acceptance were always extremely important to me. As I grew older, any opportunities I had to experience family gatherings also gave me those “warm fuzzies.” But life goes on, people die, and families go their own ways. Today I live far away from many of those I would love to spend more time with, and holidays are often lonely or lacking.

I now attend a weekly bible study at the local prison. Many of the men there are very lonely. They feel isolated. Some of them have no one at all outside those walls.

Most of my friends celebrate holidays with their own families. Many times, I have been invited to join them, but…it just isn’t the same. This past week, following a particularly moving bible study, I realized something. Prison ministry has become for me an opportunity to connect with other lonely individuals. There I feel my presence alone is making a difference. The men attending the service warmly welcome the volunteers. Discussions reveal men who have studied the bible a great deal more than I have, and their comments are often quite open, revealing both insights and emotions one would not expect to find in supposedly “tough” men. These men make me feel as though I have been blessed with a room full of brothers – and I love it! They joke with me. They’re serious with me. And I feel like I could be their sister.

Some of my friends don’t understand my reasons for going there. Why would I want to be among criminals? Am I not afraid?  In an odd way, their bleak existence day after day, has shown me things I have otherwise taken for granted. Their openness has made me feel accepted. Their gratitude for my presence and time there is all I need. Their thoughts and the emotions they share are bonuses. In them, I have found family…and for them, I will be forever grateful.

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The Prisoner's Prayer Book

Louise is author of The Prisoner's Prayer Book which evolved as she became a volunteer in prison ministry. Retired from a career in social services, Louise resides in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

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