Moving Forward

Perhaps there is some value in lengthy incarcerations. Recently I heard from two new friends who remain behind bars. They seem to know their own direction…but they have been in prison for years. One observed of some around him that “they hold in anger and resentment” and “wear every injustice.” The other wrote “Hating someone will kill you just as fast as over-drinking every day.”

These men have ridden themselves of anger. They are looking forward to the chance at a better life. They have discovered a sense of purpose, a desire to be different than they were before they came to prison.

The words that these men wrote resonated with me because I know another man who does not live in a prison surrounded by razor wire…though he might as well. He lives in his very own prison of anger and resentment. It has sapped his strength for anything productive. He is frozen in time, imprisoned in his own hell from which he has been unable to escape.

We are all prisoners in some way. All too often we get stuck in attitudes and behaviors that are unproductive. Friends, relatives, and mentors often help to direct us to more positive ways of living. What if we never knew anyone who valued us enough to show us the difference?

Whether you are behind the sliding door of a cell, or isolated from society by personal choice, YOU could be the person who could make the difference in another’s life. YOU have value. YOU are worth it. YOU are a child of God and there is a reason for you to be here. Don’t ignore your potential. Move forward!

Letters from Within

I have been impressed by the letters I’ve received from prisoners. Perhaps they don’t represent the majority of prisoners, but I think I can honestly say that, without exception, each person with whom I have corresponded has seemed sincere (although perhaps a bit tentative at first), perhaps not necessarily scholastic, yet always appreciative. Most often, they seem surprised that you would want to write to them, but are most thankful that you do.

It isn’t hard to take a little time to just sit down and write a letter. From the responses I’ve received, in fact, I believe it is time well spent. So far, I know that I have made a number of individuals feel that they are worthwhile human beings. The simple fact that someone has taken the time to write, means a great deal to them.

Humanity for Prisoners has a program called Project Window. Through this simple program, a commitment is made by an individual to write to a prisoner for one year. The letter writer uses only his or her first name, and the address used is that of a sponsoring church. For anyone wanting to begin a program of prisoner outreach, this could be a most simple beginning.

Who knows? The time you take from your busy day may, at least in part, be one small step toward helping an incarcerated individual take many of those steps toward his or her re-entry into society. It will, no doubt, increase that person’s sense of self worth. Finally – although it may come as a surprise  – you may find that it will become for you both a rewarding and inspiring experience.

Hope and Value

Recently, blogs have begun to reflect on 2011 and are looking toward the new year. Certainly, my accomplishment this year has been having The Prisoner’s Prayer Book published. My life is otherwise pretty unremarkable. To the question “what do I want for 2012” I hope that the words in the prayers of this book will make a
difference in the lives of some prisoners. I pray that those who are lonely,
hopeless, even despairing, will pick up this book, read a few prayers, and be
moved. I want to instill hope.

I also want to create awareness within the general public. Before I volunteered for prison ministry, I knew absolutely nothing about this mysterious world behind bars. I didn’t know any prisoners. My “awareness” came only from what I may have seen on television or in the movies. Now I have a new awareness. I suspect there are many others out there for whom “prison” has never been a part of their vocabulary.

The size of a cell is approximately eight feet by ten feet. Sometimes, that space is shared. You are confined until the lock is released. You might be allowed only one hour out in the yard each day, and maybe time for a shower several times a week. Your food, shall we say, is not fine dining. If you are among those in a lower security level, you might be in a dormitory-like setting, but that will probably have more individuals housed there than the size for which the space was originally intended. You may be fortunate to have a “job” – if you can call it that. You work for pennies per hour. You try to save enough to pay for envelopes and stamps, personal hygiene products, maybe future phone calls. Yet, phone calls are expensive, as are the store items that you are allowed to buy.

From what I have learned, there is very little in the way of education or rehabilitation. These individuals are merely housed. When they have served their time, they may or may not be released on a timely basis. They will have been provided very little with which to change their lives for the better. They will return to the same locations from which they came.

I don’t mean to say that punishment for a crime is not warranted. I do, however, believe that these are men and women with souls, who have value. Often, they themselves do not know that. All too often, the crime was committed in a moment of passion. They never thought about, never knew what the consequences might be and what could lie ahead. We house these men and women in cages. Too often, they are treated worse than animals.

What I want for 2012, is greater awareness of what goes on beyond that barbed wire, those doors, and locking gates. I want education of the public, and I want education for prisoners. I want rehabilitation for prisoners. How else can we expect behaviors to change when they return to society? There are individuals with talent, skills, and possibilities who are being warehoused behind bars. Let’s harness that ability and talent! Let’s direct it for good. Let’s treat these, our fellow human beings, with dignity and respect, and give them hope for the future.

We are told to pray as though our prayers have already been answered. Envision it:  model men and women who have paid for their crime, who have learned respect for themselves and others, whose abilities and talents have been recognized. Now they have skills and self-worth and a desire to contribute to society. Yes, THIS is what I want for 2012. THIS is my prayer for the new year!

Facing Death

The sister-in-law of a very good friend is dying. She has fought a lengthy battle with cancer, but the vicious disease has now taken the lead. She was able to spend Thanksgiving with family, but she and everyone else were aware that it was very likely to be her last. Just recently, within this same family, a new baby was born. How amazing that one life will soon be lost  just as another has recently begun!

I’m thinking today of the men and women in prison who are dying, without family or friends nearby. There are very few prison hospices, but how I wish there were more! I would hold a hand or empty a bedpan just to be able to be with someone imprisoned, without any chance of release, who is dying alone.

When I think about these things, I have to force myself to find the positive. For dying prisoners, there is hope that they are going to a better life. There is prayer that they have learned from their experience, that they are sorry for their deeds and/or that they have learned to live with a fate that seems unjustified. Yes, when these lives are lost, I believe they will begin anew.

Today I pray for those who are dying. I ask that they will be able to remain strong as they bridge the final rapids of life. I also honor those who care for the dying as they offer gentle care to the lonely, the frightened, the  sad, and the struggling. May peace arrive as earthly struggles end, and may those who wait with the dying be blessed.