I went inside a jail for the first time in my life this week. No, I wasn’t arrested! I went with a group from the Fairfield Ministerial Association to the Fairfield County Detention Center in Winnsboro, SC, to help with their annual Christmas party for the inmates.
I’ve read stories about people in jail, and they always make a reference to the clanging noise made by the doors as they slam shut. I guess that’s why I seemed to hear every door as it slammed shut. Only it really wasn’t a “clang” as much as it was a slam.
And there was always a “click” prior to the door opening or shutting, because it had to be opened from the central office, by computer.
We were led to a small room, where the party would take place. The building was constructed of cinderblock, with hard tile floors. Everything was painted a bland off-white. A couple of other ladies were busy setting up the food tables with big trays of fried chicken, devilled eggs, fresh veggies with dip, little smokies, and cheese. There were also several cakes, pies, and cookies for dessert. I did what I could to help get ready for the inmates.
Soon the men began filing into the room, crowding in until there was absolutely no more room at all. Every chair was full, and some guys stood at the very back. Every one of them wore the same type of elastic-waist denim dungarees, with a stripe down the side imprinted with a number. Most wore bright orange t-shirts with “FCDC” emblazoned across the back for Fairfield County Detention Center. Feet were covered in white socks and most wore plastic slippers, though a few wore tennis shoes.
I looked at their faces. Most were young black guys; I figured if I was in my home county I would probably have known a few from when they may have been in my classroom. Many of them were excited and smiling, their eyes relaying joy for a special dinner and a change in the routine. A few – especially the older men – had an empty, hopeless look in their eyes, as though it was just one more day in a bad place for them.
We started with a prayer, then sang a couple of Christmas carols. Our friends Martin & Tiki Wilkes distributed colorful handbells and Tiki led them in playing several songs. Everybody enjoyed this – it was fun, and the men laughed as they rang the bells. Some of the guys really got into this and didn’t want to stop!
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched David as he took this whole scene in. He’d been in this jail before, but this trip was totally different than the previous ones. A few years ago, he’d been one of the inmates. His eyes misted up more than once as he watched the men enjoying themselves.
Then it was David’s turn to speak to the men.
This was absolutely one of those “full circle” life events for him. Once he’d been an inmate, needing to make drastic changes in his life. Once he’d been a spectator in the Christmas programs at the jail. But his surrender to Jesus Christ lifted him out of that lifestyle, changed him completely, gave him *life* more abundant than ever.
He spoke to the men of his testimony, telling them about God’s wake-up call to him: being shot in the head and living to tell about it. Continuing his testimony, he talked of his abuse of drugs and alcohol, then about times in the psychiatric hospital. He spoke in words they understood and could relate to. When he told them about being on thorazine, he mimicked the “thorazine shuffle” – to the delight of the guys. They nodded and laughed at his antics. And I *knew* that many of them had definitely “been there.”
Using a couple of clear gallon jugs, he illustrated how one’s life can become weighed down with garbage. He tossed in chunks of bricks that represented negative treatment from relatives, then added smaller gravels to signify the same from other important folks like teachers, and coaches. On top of that he added sand – bad habits and labels from friends. The jug looked pretty full at this point – but there was room for water. That was negative self-talk. The mess in the jar was really ugly.
Then he poured the nasty water into an empty jar. That water was grungy looking – all brown and clumped with dirt. He opened a small packet of powder and stirred it into the mess – this, he said, represented Christ entering his life. As he continued with his testimony he stirred the nasty water in the jar, thoroughly mixing the new powder (Christ) into it. When he stopped stirring, the inmates gasped to watch all the nasty stuff drop top the bottom of the jar – leaving the water itself clear, clean, and sparkling!
I wish I’d had a camera – not only to capture the demonstration, but to record the looks of amazement on the faces of the men. A few moments later, David drank the newly purified water. (I have to admit – I tasted it, too!) The impact was real, and moving to see.
He finished his talk, and it was time for the men to eat their meal. We stood near the table and the guys had to walk past us as they got their food. Many shook our hands; most told David they appreciated what he had to say. A couple were deeply moved.
I found it hard not to tear up, myself.
As the men ate, we talked with some of them. I listened as David laughed with them about the “bad food day” – apparently when he was incarcerated, one day a week just had awful food: a boiled egg & slice of bread for breakfast, then something equally as unappetizing for lunch and dinner. The guys assured him that not much had changed – there was still a “bad food day,” even years later!
Once the men finished dinner, they had to return to their cells. Each received a gift, consisting of toiletries and a Gideon Bible. Most of the guys thanked us as a group; several thanked David, particularly.
When it was over, we got in the truck to leave.
David looked over at me and laughed a bit…then he said, “I’ve been to these in the past, but I never got to leave with the pretty girl before!” I giggled in response! I think that had been the first light-hearted exchange we’d had all day long.
I have to tell you, we’d both had a really ugly, raw day. Sometimes the devil just comes and sits on your doorstep, spewing his lies and surrounding you in a fog of venom and hate – this had been one of those kind of days. Things just didn’t go right, all day. A situation in the neighborhood had been grinding our nerves and distracting us both. An interview I’d had just didn’t go like I had expected. We felt frustrated, aggravated, disheartened, disgusted, ready to just give up….
UNTIL WE WENT TO THE JAIL.
Being with those men, watching their faces as they enjoyed the fellowship and the message of the evening, experiencing the testimony through their eyes…that gave me a HUGE blessing!! Here we were, supposed to be blessing them – and yet I came away feeling humbled and blessed myself. They had ministered to me as much, if not more, than I’d ministered to them.
And I was so proud of my husband. Christ in his life has made such an astounding difference! I tried to imagine him, wearing those clothes, shuffling into the room, as I know he'd once done...but the David I know doesn't fit that image at all. Knowing how his past could have dragged him down, even unto death, I said special prayers of thanksgiving for the changes, seen and unseen, in him.
A good friend recently said to me that everybody has a past. Some of us have issues that are uglier than others, but we’ve all got a past. BUT we also have a PRESENT and a FUTURE – and if Christ is with us, the past is forgotten! Hallelujah for that hope!
In this season of Christmas, may you focus on the PRESENT that is in Christ, for He is our hope and our FUTURE!!!
***** ****** *****
One of the things I love best about my husband is his OPTIMISM! He has an amazing ability to bounce back, even after the worst kinds of hurts and disappointments. I think the reason I love this about him, is that I KNOW it all comes from his faith in Christ. It is a glorious "proof positive" of the power of Christ in his life.
***** ****** *****
My cell phone rang this afternoon and I answered with my usual “hello.”
My husband responded with something like, “Hello, you most beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous, terrific, best wife in the world!” It made me giggle like a schoolgirl – to be charmed by this guy I married!
And I said to him, “You know…*every* woman needs to hear those words! But not from YOU!! I’m the only one with that privilege!”
My wish for you is that you get a phone call full of compliments that make you giggle, too!
Merry Christmas & Many Blessings!