But I never did. I would drive by the correctional facility and not even think of who was there-or why-or their stories. I’d see the wild horse farm, and wonder about that a bit. But zoom on by to get to the mall-that’s what I did.
All that changed, and when I’ve been asked why I was there at the prison yesterday..except for God.
Inmates from another facility have an outreach program. Once a year for the last 4 years or so, a group of them from their Spiritual Life Center visit our Parish. They present, with skits, songs, and testimony, their stories to encourage all of us to not go down the paths they chose to follow. Recently, a gentleman from my Parish, has informed us that a dinner theater presented by the inmates, featuring the play Arsenic and Old Lace, was coming up soon. I thought about this, but have not arranged to go.
Several weeks ago, an elderly lady from my Parish told me about a visit she made to that same facility. She was touched by the gentleness of the inmate assigned to escort her around in a wheel chair. He would get down at eye level to talk to her. She noticed the eyes of the men upon her as they passed by….seeking a glance from her, hungrily, desiring recognition of them…I am a person…see me….! She told the young inmate that she appreciated his kindness, that she could see he had a good heart. She didn’t know what he’d done to get there, but she said she would pray for him every day. She asked him to pray for her, too. And he promised he would. When she returned home that evening, she told me she could not sleep. She kept seeing those boys…who’d made mistakes…and were sorry.
Then, thanks to Facebook, I spotted a link to the Spiritual Life Center in Hutchinson, KS. I followed their page for a while, and then decided perhaps I could volunteer to play the piano for them, which evolved into playing for Mass. I had to submit my information for a background check. Several weeks later, a date was set…a Thursday afternoon. Yesterday was the day.
I arrived early, found the gate house, where you check in. I had to wait quite a while for an officer to escort me in since I wasn’t an official volunteer yet…I did not have my own badge. As I waited, I watched staff, guards, and volunteers come and go in a steady pace. Eventually I was escorted in by the Chaplain. They are remodeling the auditorium for their Spiritual Life Center, so temporarily they have offices and meet for Mass in the educational area. I learned that the prison is like a city. It has it’s own hospital. The inmates have jobs there. Everything. Except freedom. photo © 2006 MsAnthea | more info (via: Wylio)
The photo is similar to the open area we walked through…with pillars. No one was there..empty, even though there are 1800 inmates incarcerated in that place.
When we arrived to the room, several young inmates were preparing for Mass. The altar was being set up, chairs, missals passed out. When I arrived, they were confused for a while. I told them I had come to play for Mass, and I’ll never forget the expressions on their faces! These young men did everything they could to get the keyboard set up. They didn’t even know there was one! We had to tape it to a small table to it wouldn’t tip over when I set the accompaniment books on the stand. They found the song books. I was told it was the first time anyone had ever played for their Mass.
I found out what songs they did sing, and chose Immaculate Mary for the entrance hymn and Amazing Grace for the closing. In addition we sang God Has Chosen Me for the preparation of the gifts and while they came forward for Communion, I sang, I Have Loved You. I offered to sing the Psalm and the Alleluia, as well.
I’m telling you, I’ve never been to a more reverent Mass. They were on their knees, on the floor. They sang. They prayed. They did the passing of the peace…did they ever! Everyone shook Everyone Else’s hand. I was told this was a miracle in itself, given the fact of gangs in the prison. True Peace was in that room.
Before we started, I asked if I could speak to the men. I was allowed to do so. I can’t tell you exactly what I said…but this is close. I was crying, and could barely speak. I told them that God had sent me to visit them. I had already been so touched by the faith of these men. I told them that we on the outside pass by and never think of them. They did not exist, for the most part, in my mind, anyway. I told them it was an honor to be there to worship with them. I told them about working in the pregnancy center for years, and that those girls had babies with men, men like them, perhaps. I told them, that if they were a daddy, to be a good daddy. And that the only way to learn that, was to let God be their Daddy, and learn from Him. I told them to please sing with me!
After the Mass, several of the men came to me to thank me for coming. I can’t put words to most of how I was feeling.
I will go back. It may not be every week, because of the distance and expense of getting there.
But, they are all my “boys” now. Just as the “girls” I dealt with at the center became close to me, so have these men.
I’ve been warned not to get too close. That prisoners are cons…they will tell you what you want to hear to get what they want to get.
Be that as it may, I received a gift yesterday..more brothers in the Lord. When we feel we are all alone, God is there with us.
Whether our path is inside the walls,
or outside the walls,