Now, that’s a way to get someone’s attention, or some funny looks at the least.
But yes, it’s true. I went to prison.
So first, let me clarify that this is not what you think it is. Or maybe it is. Or maybe you don’t think that this is what this is. Or maybe you’re completely confused now. So am I. Let’s start over.
Revive Our Hearts has been closely connected to a faith-based ministry in the McPherson Unit of a women’s prison in Newport, Arkansas for quite some time. (Perhaps you were around for True Woman ’12 or watched the livestream when a mile-long prayer chain from women in prison was spread across the auditorium. That was McPherson.)
When I came on staff in the summer of 2014, I soon met fellow Arkansan Jennifer Smith, an ex-felon who now serves as Chaplain in this prison. (She has an amazing story that she has shared on ROH.) I now claim her as a good friend, and she has been hounding me for over a year to come visit her unit some time while I’m home. After my paperwork getting backlogged last December postponed my good intentions, this year it finally happened.
“Somebody’s Gotta Go to Prison.”
That’s a line from one of my family’s favorite films, National Treasure, where the FBI agent regretfully informs Ben Gates that somebody’s gunna serve time for the disappearance of the Declaration of Independence.
Obviously, a movie about conspiracy theories and recovering our nation’s most important document has nothing to do with my time in prison. But that line has everything to do with a verse that is tucked away in the back pages of Scripture, largely ignored out of ignorance or apathy.
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.
We Christians are generally good at picking and choosing what we want to remember out of the Bible, and this verse is usually not one of them. I’m sure that’s due partly to the fact that we do not live in a society where friends and family members are daily being imprisoned for their faith, with no food or clothing except what is brought to them.
However, that is no excuse to ignore the plight of people in prison today. I did not know how true that really is until last Saturday when I entered into a maximum security state prison.
I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but I went in to pass out hygiene packets and play Christmas carols, but walked away touched by the beautiful women inside. I walked through those iron doors between the cold, hard concrete walls, looking for the faces of inmates that matched their surroundings. What I found was smiles and enthusiasm and gratitude.
I walked in there ready to serve and to give, and what I found was cheerful inmates serving me, making sure I was taken care of, providing a chair for my tired legs, treating me from their precious candy supply, checking on my well-being throughout those ten hours . . . I could go on and on.
Everyone Should Go to Prison
A friend warned me before going in that you can’t go just once; you get hooked. I see what she means. It’s a unique experience that can’t be adequately described.
Of course, knowing the Chaplain, hearing stories of the inmates, and having some history with this prison made my experience a little more meaningful, perhaps. Now I can visualize her ministry, and the women she loves and serves. Now I have faces to go with the names I’ve heard of and prayed for.
But I really do think everyone should go to prison. You don’t know what true freedom is until you’ve seen it inside prison bars. There may be women who will live behind barbed wire the rest of their life, accounted for every several hours, and guarded every waking moment, but inside they are as free as a bird.
Their future is secure in Christ, and so they live in bondage no more. And it’s a beautiful sight to behold.