When he left prison he was filled with compassion and love for the people he had met on the level field of the prison yard, folks with whom he shared prison food day by day, scary people and scared people. I suspect that most of us would have wanted to put that all as far behind us as possible as fast as possible and get busy trying to restore our financial security, wanting to forget the experience as quickly as possible.
Instead Chuck Colson invested the rest of his years working in, visiting and praying for prisons across the United States and around the world. He has advocated for more effective legal processes affecting incarceration rates, alternatives to incarceration and powerful prison programming. He built an organization that has survived and thrived since his death, recruiting, training and overseeing volunteers that offer light in the darkest of places.
The free world's free press occasionally mentioned Chuck Colson's story, but they never seem really comfortable either with Mr. Colson's relationship with God which drove him to "squeal on his friends" (though they think dirty politicians should repent and change their ways), nor does it seem they really believe anything can make things better for someone convicted of a crime. They are excited to tell the stories of folks unjustly incarcerated with much speculation about how that happened; unless the unjustly incarcerated person is more interested in forgiving and living well than in rehashing the truly horrible thing that happened to them. Stories encouraging people to give folks who have been incarcerated a chance at honest, gainful employment is certainly not considered worthy of time on the nightly news. So they either dismissed it as a "flash in the pan" or unlikely to matter or maybe mildly interesting if the incarcerated person has "star quality". Even then the news seems almost smug when someone who has struggled and found a new life, then slips, as though by the public sin all redemption, reconciliation and renewal is proven false by it, Instead it is the proof that even very public people are loved by God and tended with care as they recover from a public slip. (I'm so grateful that when I fall off my diet or yell at someone I'm not news worthy!).
So today I want to thank God for the Prison Ministry staff; volunteers, both free-world visitors and resident volunteers; Angel Tree participants; and churches building processes to be safe places for former prisoners seeking to build purposeful, worthwhile lives and be responsible members of families, churches and communities. And say out loud in public how much I appreciate the work they acting as Jesus modeled for us.
If you hear a whisper that God has this on His list of ways to bless you, check out the link on the resource links tab above look for programs in your area. Even if you don't find a way to volunteer with them, they have great resources and replaceable processes information so if you are building a new ministry in your church you can start a step or two ahead and with great information on keeping everyone safe.
Generous and Abundant Lord, thank You for Your promise to meet us where we are. No matter how someone finds their way to a jail or prison cell, we know it can be a time of reflection, reconsidering past choices and seeking new ways to move ahead. Send workers to this orchard heavy with ripe fruit where something as simple as kindness and respect, a hearing ear, a praying heart can be used by the Spirit of God to offer hope, help, healing and holy change in lives of inmates who today find it hard to believe it is possible that God loves them. Thank you for opening opportunities for us to be a part of that, from prayers to financial support to personal interaction with these folks. Give us wisdom, patience, and a willingness to be only the hands and feet of God, guarding us from all evil and protecting us from causing harm. AMEN