Wednesday, July 21, 2010

This probably wasn't a good idea

"Ben I want to go to prison" were the words in the email. This was from a former youth group student of mine. This 22 year old female. Immediately I had my doubts and all the reasons why this wasn't a good idea, but I asked do you know what you are getting into? After a conversation and a tour of the prison she decided she wanted to go to a class with me.
So yesterday with my psuedo-intern John and Leah we went and taught in prison. I was wrestling with the responsibility and what was going to happen the night before. I was a little concerned never having taken a girl into this enviornment before.
This experience would be my most interesting time up to date. As I prepared them in the car ride over, we covered all the normal dos and donts that go along with visiting a max security prison. I had prepared the inmates the week before and was semi confident that I could trust them to be respectful.
As we settled into the class John so eloquently asked "So who in here is innocent?" I immediately cringed. I appriacted the tolernace the gentleman in the class had. They were patient with niavity and interesting questions. They joked, conversed, and had serious moments in the class. They were perfect gentleman until one asked Leah what her sign was. As the class came to a close and I started to relax a little, one of the guys asked Leah "How have you handled adversity in her life?" She began by sharing about her dad dying in the last year due to cancer. She then went on to share about the struggles she had with an emotionally abusive boyfriend and doing somethings that she wanted to save for marriage. During this time she broke down and started crying. John and I looked at each other not knowing what to do. One of the guys spoke up "hey why dont one of you two give her a hug since we aren't allowed to touch her."
"Another got some toilet paper and gave it to me to give to her to wipe away her tears."
As the tears stopped Leah went on and shared how due to her relationship with her boyfriend she had become depressed and had difficulty communicating with her dad before he died and how there were things she wanted to say and tell him all abot what happened.
I had no idea all that was in her, a few of the inmates reassured her that her dad loved her and was proud of her.
One of the older gentleman shared how his daughter had an abortion and done other things that he didn't agree with but he still loved her.
Leah ended the class by singing a song (she is an opera major in college).
I didn't know what to think, say, or do. This had changed course and the men in the class became compassionate, encouraging, and helpful. This wasn't at all what I expected.
As many other surreal moments this one ended with us shaking hands with all the guys and them giving inspirational words to Leah.
Not knowing exactly what these guys thought of the time, I asked one of the men about his thoughts in front of the head of the program. This white late twenties guy was pretty excited. He said "Leah's story changed my mind on my time here in prison. I was just passing time and waiting to get out and sell drugs again. Now after listening to her made me think of my daughter and thinking about my relationship with her."
Who knows if that will really change him or not. I would be more confident bringing in another female in again. There is always the possibility of something going wrong, but the way they resinated with her story and showed mercy and care moved me. One of the tough young guys, tatooed hardened commented as Leah was crying, it is ok we all cry from time to time.
Taking risks like this is hard, if it go wrong many people say I told you so (and deservedly so) but the experience John, Leah, and I experienced was priceless and seeing inmates as human beings is something I would want everyone to experience.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I'm a meth cook

"I have only one skill, and I am damn good at it." Were the words of the inmates mouth. The 40 something scraggily hair, unkept clothing, and a traces of a goatee then went on to say- "the only thing I can do well is cook meth." "Last time I was out, I tried to stay clean. I got a job for $7 an hour and then some of my old buddies found me. They dropped the ingredients for meth on my table and said just make it this one time for us. We know how good you are and no one comes close to cooking it up like you. So I did it, and then they sold some of it. The other clients were hooked, they wanted more. My buddies came back to my house laid $3,000 on my table and said give us all you have. That lured me right back in."
He then asked "how can I stay away from this lure?"
He knows the consequences of what happens if he doesn't. He is going to be a fifty something when he is done serving his time in prison.
I am asked on a weekly basis - do these guys really want to change? When I looked in the mans eyes into his soul I could see the desire. But I wouldn't bet a huge amount of money that he will change. The lure is to great. He is not going to do anything better than a $7-$10 an hour job. His best skill is creating an illegal substace. How does that transfer into making his life better?

Doc piped up at this point in time in the class. "I was good at what I did also. I robbed banks. I was taught by a professional and that was my skill. But you know what else I am good at? We all looked and could only imagine what the next words would be. I am good at washing dishes. I don't care what I have to do I am not coming back to prison."

Change is so hard for all of us, but for people who have made a lifestyle of illegal activity it so difficult to change. I asked yesterday how many guys had held a legitimate job before? Almost all of them raised their hands. But selling drugs, pimping woman, robbing banks, doing who knows what else makes much more money than a legitimate job.

Sacrificing the temporal for long term is hard for most of us. Discipline and deciding to forgo the short term money for long term success is a hard decision for most of these incarcarated men.
Most of them will go back to what they were doing, even though many have found God in a meaningful way. The draw is too strong, the alternatives are much to hard.

I don't have a whole lot of solutions, there are things that would need to happen on a large scale level to change what happens in our inner cities and the culture that these men grow up in.
There would need to be changes in individual middle class lives and changes in our culture also.

I am beginning to see more and more patterns emerge from men I meet in prison. Choosing a path of crime is a normal occurance in their families and friends. For the most of us we don't know criminals, most of our family members go to college have jobs and live fairly normal. Doing illegal activity is not really an option that we entertain. We don't see this modeled.

Recently I observed a man running from the police and hiding in his home. His kids were there to see it. This now becomes an option for them, whether conciously or sub consciously running from the police is an ok act because my father figure did it.

I am naive and I continue to learn and see how people grew up differently than me and how it does effect there long term outlook on life.

At the end of class the meth cook with hope in his eyes asked me do you know people who could give me clothes, help me find a job, or feed me after I get out? I had to laugh because I wondered is this man asking me or is Jesus asking me.