Work of Mercy: Visit the Prisoners

No one should be denied God. In fact, if God should be anywhere it is where the darkness is strongest, and where will you find darkness as deep and strong as in a prison?
— Jennifer Westermann
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When I was invited to go to the prison, I gave a very tentative “sure”; that one you give where you do not particularly want to do whatever you said you would, but you say yes anyway...sort of out of a sense of duty. Then I spent the next few days thinking up the worst images my mind could manage. What would it be like inside a prison? I had absolutely no idea, so naturally I pictured a horror movie of sorts; bad guys, ugly building, basically scary all around. Getting in was just what anyone would imagine; there is plenty of security, locked doors, ID checks, and more. That part is no different than TSA really. Once you are officially in though, that was where it became different, and better than anything I had thought about before going in. Doors were open, people were walking around, and the chapel we went into had no security guards inside and was full of chairs, music stands, books, and instruments. There are less objects laying around at the facility I work at (side note, I work at a crisis center for children with mental health disabilities so having stuff lying around that they could use to hurt themselves or you is a definite no). Maybe this sounds scary at first, but as the inmates came in it felt like any other service you would attend; it was normal. They were respectful, insightful, supportive, kind, and fun. I had the best time singing with them. Afterwards we had some time to hang out, which meant talking to them. Of course we did not share personal information, but that did not mean we could not share stories and experiences. Those guys had a past, but guess what? So do I, and so does every other person in this world. At some point in time in our lives, I think we have all done something we are not proud of, that we may regret or wish could have been different. We are all sinners. Some of them would say how they got there, some of them wouldn’t, but as weird as it may sound, I did not care, and I never once felt afraid or uncomfortable. Maybe it was because the moment I walked through the door I started talking about music and singing, or maybe it was just the presence of God in the chapel; maybe it was both, but there was peace there, comfort. I have a past, I have a story, and truth be told, if I had not gotten back to the church, who knows where my path would have taken me. I am grateful for God and for the church, and I saw that same grace and love in each one of those men. I am so glad I gave my hesitant “sure” and went. I love to sing, and always have because for me that is the heart and soul of peace and love, everything that God is. I think they felt it too. Many of the guys came up to me afterwards to shake my hand, crying, thanking me, asking me to come back. I would go back because I know how much they need people to be there to support them through the darkness they dwell in, and I hope others will go back too. Without people like us, they cannot have mass, music, or gathering, and that is, well that is unfortunate and unjust. No one should be denied God. In fact, if God should be anywhere it is where the darkness is strongest, and where will you find darkness as deep and strong as in a prison? If you have ever once sinned, as I have; if you have ever once questioned faith or walked away, as I have; or if you have ever wanted to spread God’s love, to help, to do good work, as I have; go to the prison, go and be a light, a guide. Go and support, to show peace and love, go and show forgiveness. They need it, and believe it or not, so do you. It will be as much the best part of your day as it will be there’s.

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