Being involved in the legal system and being incarcerated results in embarrassment, shame, obsessing about past choices, fear, frustration, longing for redemption, desire for renewal, depression, boredom, blaming, anxiety, longing for a better future -- and our loved ones whose illegal behavior and/or bad choices brought us all to this place have all the same feelings in even more unrelenting waves.
Legal problems and, even more strongly, incarceration and its aftermath are so fraught with challenges that many family members are reluctant to even ask for help from their church or friends or even other family members. This was quite simply one of the most frightening, frustrating, lonely, isolating, out-of-control experiences of my life.** So I think this is the perfect place to explore something better than trying to do it on our own!
This is one of the best places I know to have conversations about ideas that are altogether new to many prisoners and pretty darn rusty for others. Additionally, even if they are still wanting to be wise guys and tough girls, trust me when I say it is painfully obvious to anyone who lands in a jail or prison that life's challenges and choices have become a reality beyond what most of us can even slightly imagine.
In short, it is a place where so many people are longing for something better, for hope, for wanting to understand how to do things differently. It is a place where people are at great risk for despair, bitterness, feeling so unworthy and unable to find their way to a better life they instead opt to give themselves up to addictions, habits, choices and actions through which they hope to stop the pain at least for a little while. Even if they are wholly committed to never coming back, never again being removed from their family support, never again wasting money on legal expenses, let me assure you that there is little really useful support in overwhelmed and under-informed probation and re-entry programs to give them a workable leg up on getting back on track.
But if they have been introduced to the God who forgives, redeems and restores, if they have had time to grow in their prayer life, and a chance to begin to explore the scriptures, if they have experienced Christian fellowship, if they come out to welcoming churches and grounded, welcoming family members, then the data shows us a picture of hope, of purpose, and of intentional living as the hands and feet of God. Such as these bless and inform our lives as they return to the community that needs their presence, and presents and participation in the Name of Christ for the greater good.
Data indicates the recidivism rates for general prison populations are pretty consistently around 70%; for programs run by faith-based, consistent, well managed programs offering fellowship, instruction and on-going support those numbers often drop below 20%. With incarceration rates soaring it becomes even more urgent that folks who seek to be contributing members of society be given tools to do so.
So where else can my time, my prayers, my efforts, my work have a greater impact on those who benefit from these programs, and for their parents, siblings, souses, children, friends, churches, employers, neighbors, and schools by extension. For this year and the next and for the rest of their years on this Earth and for eternal life.
What if my involvement only blesses one prisoner? What if it only helps one family? What if it only comforts one family member in the name of Christ? What if it helps more.
The fields are white and ready for harvest indeed.
* 2 Corinthians 12:9
** The only thing worse is watching a loved one spin out of control, sliding further and further away from the dear and good person they were created to be with no internal or external barrier to the slide.This was quite simply one of the most frightening, frustrating, lonely, isolating, out-of-control experiences of my life.**