I was back at Pocahontas Prison last Saturday, for a reunion.
Reunions occur monthly, on the first Saturday. Two church services occupy the first half of these Saturdays, with two different groups of inmates, and then the reunion is over, insofar as we volunteers are concerned. It’s an early-start day for those of us who come to the prison from our homes, many of which are, like mine, about 130 miles distant from the prison.
During reunions, the inmates arrive from the cell pods, are searched and then allowed through the door into the gym, and then they gather their cookies and seat themselves in groups of five or six—randomly: no assigned tables—each group with one Kairos volunteer. A reunion service commences with prayers and songs; then it moves to a homily, and ends with an open-ended study discussion.
While the walks are the work of Kairos, the reunions are the work of the church that has been planted inside the prison and are administratively overseen by the prison chaplain. The masters of ceremony are inside church elders. During reunions, we Kairos volunteers are the guests of the inside church.
Our role is (1) to distribute cookies, (2) to facilitate the study discussion, and (3) as always to listen; listen; love; love.
Upon my arrival Saturday morning at the front-search entrance to the prison, a volunteer friend asked me excitedly, “Wasn’t that a wonderful letter from David?”
“What letter from David?”
“You haven’t seen his letter?”
“No. How did it come? What did it say?”
“David is saved!”
“Oh, yes, I knew that. It’s wonderful! I got a text about it two days ago.” I named the volunteer who had texted me. “But a letter? I haven’t seen a letter.”
“I’ll make certain you get a copy.”
“I have so much wanted to see David, after this news, to give him the hug of a brother. I hope he comes to reunion today.”
“As a newly saved man, I think he will!”
David did attend Saturday’s first reunion service. I hugged him and blessed him on account of his salvation. He sat next to me in our small group, and we had friendly talk about this change in his life during the few minutes of cookie-eating and getting comfortable as a group. Then the service began.
After a prayer, the church band began to sing. They are an enthusiastic group, skilled, and dynamic—eight backup singers, two charismatic lead singers, three electric guitars, and a keyboard. Pretty soon we were all rocking along with them, captured by the southern Baptist-style beat, repeating the refrain over and over again--
I cleaned up
What I messed up,
I start my life
There we were—men of the free world, men of the inside world—some of us saved, I suppose some of us not—we were getting louder and our hands were stabbing upward as we acclaimed that we were cleaning up what we had messed up—as all of us had messed up something—and we vowed to start our life over again.
It was both empowering and FUN!
I glanced at David. He was not standing as most of the rest of us were, and he had a grimace on his face.
I sat down. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
This powerful man gestured to his thighs. “Can’t hardly move,” he said. “Hurts so much.”
Worried, I asked about the pain. While the music faded, he explained to me that something really huge had just happened to him just a few days before.
I agreed with him that something really huge had just happened to him just a few days before.
“No, Dikkon—writer man—not that.”
It turned out that the other really huge thing that had just happened was that he had just won a gold medal in the prison’s weight-lifting contest, doing squats with barbells across his shoulders. His thighs were toast.
We laughed--a lotta huge things had just happened for David!
The theme of Saturday’s prison services was FEAR. The homily for the first service was presented by a Kairos volunteer, the homily for the second by a prison church elder. Fear is a big deal in prison; good choice for our theme. Easy for me to get the discussions going after the homilies, using open-ended questions.
While I was leading prayer during the end of our discussions, the Lord made it clear to me that fear is a big deal outside of prison, too.
C, about whom I hinted during an earlier post, came and sat with David and our group and me during that first service. C provided a dramatic confession about fear—about his fear.
How could that be?
Does not compute.
No, come to think of it, it does compute. Even C.
As David and I were parting, I said, “I heard you wrote a letter.”
“I haven’t read it yet but I’m supposed to get it this afternoon.”
“It’s about being saved, right?”
“I wanted you all to know.”
“Well, God bless you. You know, I sometimes write about this Kairos experience. Would you mind if I use something from your letter sometime?”
“Use whatever you like! I want you all to know.”
Here is part of that wonderful letter from David. David is the man who, in my earlier post, I named S.
(I’ve regularized some spelling, but the sentences are otherwise verbatim.)
My life has changed so much since I took the Kairos 4-day walk. I had made it a habit to pray to God every chance I get. Also I prayed today at 4 pm asking God “What is my purpose in life?” I sat there quietly and sat there. Then something in my heart and soul said to me, “Stop putting all your energy and worries on when you are getting out of prison, and put all your energy and faith in me.” Listen everybody, my stomach got tight, tears came from my eyes, my heart was beating fast, and my mind was clear. And for a brief second I saw myself free. But not out of prison. I saw that I was free with God. I was smiling and helping people find God in prison.
David recounts that he went to supper and spoke to another prisoner about being saved and about his desire to be baptized. That other man said to David that he could be saved while they walked back to their pod.
So guess what? I am SAVED!! I feel more free than I ever felt in my whole life. I still have a long way to go but now I know that Jesus is walking with me all the way.
Thus saith writer man Dikkon.