"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.