"Today Darrell and I going to visit a friend in prison, so I'll be gone most of the day."
they look at me with horrified stares
I explain to them that people are lonely in prison and Jesus wants us to visit them.
They still have a worried look on their faces, so I say....
"Don't worry, daddy will be alright; Louis is a nice guy, he didn't hurt anyone or steal anything."
horrified again; "then why's he in jail?"
"he had something in his pocket he shouldn't have had!"
looking at their own pockets, they were horrified again; "what did he have daddy?"
reluctantly I say; "something called drugs"
"what's drugs daddy?"
then I try and explain to them what drugs are, but they are very confused with many more questions circling around their young minds...
they just want to keep on saying "why? why? why? why does your friend end up going to prison when he isn't violent and seems like a good man?"
but at least they're now satisfied that their daddy, and buddy Darrell, will be alright; so they change the subject...
and I sigh a sigh of relief.
We walk in and he greets us with a massive hug and smile. Then he yells "my family! This is my family!" I was thoroughly relieved that the visiting area is not like Cook County Jail, where you have to yell through the 5 little holes in the horrible bullet-proof glass panes while trying to block out all the other loud conversations in that tiny room. I was amazed, we could sit around a table. The visiting room was huge and colorful! One family was playing cards, another Jenga, a father was able to sit with his child on his knee, a husband was able to wrap his arm around his wife's shoulder and children ran around like we were in a playground. But of course, there were still armed guards, a sea of uniforms and a strict time limit that had to be kept where two of us left and one remained!
We had a great conversation and time of fellowship. We discussed his goals, ambitions and dreams. He is motivated and ready to change his direction. He had been working the prison's program, had aced it all and has saturated himself with many certificates, but he knew "returning home" was going to be a new battle.
Yet, our conversation often turned to mourning, as he recalled the tragic way he found out about his mother passing away while standing in line in our infamous Cook County Jail. Death of a loved one, while locked in shackles, is a burden so many prisoners hold! It is hard for them to shake the guilt and grief. At one point he looked around and revealed to us a new reality; we were his first ever visitors. He had spent almost 8 years in many penitentiaries over a considerable span of years and had never been in a penitentiary visitor room! Darrell and I were amazed and he was so thankful!
Yet, the mourning was for but a moment. We spent much time speaking about and recalling the many acquaintances we share; the many who lived on the street with him. But, he also spoke of how he loves, cherishes and will never forget how certain people have stood by him in all his grief and hardship. He mentions Chris, Sandy, Nate, Scott and Brad! People who are trying to live out the gospel truth at Cornerstone and elsewhere. People willing to love him despite continually being rejected by so many and most. People who have been willing to meet his various needs and have patiently stood beside him through it all. People who he'll be coming to for support and help when he's released; so he can try live his new dream and new-found freedom.
As Darrell and I cruise home from Sheridan Correctional Center, we were once again reminded of why Jesus wants us to visit and write to those incarcerated and of why he speaks of visiting prisoners as an essential part of his kingdom in the "sheep and the goats!"