I still have to fill up my tank of gas before we hit the road.
I think this to myself while my friend was getting into the car. I’d hate to run out parked at the big house. We usually give ourselves a good hour and a half grace period to get parked and back though all the hoopla to get set up. Good old Folkenburg Road, a road less traveled around the area in which I live. Or at least one road many would like to be traveling less. It’s not so much known for its businesses, or the random few pastures and empty fields still holding down fort along its side. Instead it holds a different meaning to the public, the local jail. It’s a road many wish to never travel and most that have, probably wish they never did.
Jail a place to go upon breaking the law. A foreign place for many, while to others it may feel like a second home. Jail, which is different from prison, is where you go after being arrested and are waiting to ether simply be released, make bail, be sentenced or maybe even be serving a sentence of 364 days or less. For those who have ever entered these rooms, you have a good chance of coming back after the first visit. With the percentage of returning going up even more after a second visit and we can just hold a spot with your name on it, if it’s your third time. The stats are amazing, if only the stock market could be so promising. Unfortunately the men and women who cycle through our justice system are often returning with such a high chance because they end up in the same circles after being released. There are many inmates who want to get help and go to programs, there are also some who don’t. Going to a program does not guarantee anyone’s lack of return but it actually can statistically lower your chance.
Here at Folkenburg, there are a few programs designed to help inmates with developing healthy outlets. Catholic services and AA meetings prove to be some of the positive avenues for inmates to attend and possibly seek help. Sacred Heart Church in coordination with the Diocese of St. Petersburg jail ministry program was something I became interested in a few years back. It was put on my heart to volunteer some of my time, right up until the month before delivering my first baby. Yup, my big eight month pregnant belly waddled down the long corridors, halls and paths to bring mass to the masses.
With one door shutting and locking before the next one opens. It’s a process that takes a long time to get back to the area in which we facilitate.
(I’m pretty busy these days with my two very young children/babies but I do look forward to going back to the ministry. Maybe when my children are a little older attending school.)
Some of the incarcerated show up to these programs purely to get out of their pods. It’s a time for them to have a little bit of peace and quiet from the chaos that is so commonly all around them. Some of them show up with no intentions or any interest in anything you may have to offer. Some can’t wait to hear what you have to say. I never had one disrespectful comment. Most of the inmates who show up are just eager and pleased to have the opportunity to take a walk outside of their small cubicle spaces and listen to some positivtiy for a change . They do whatever possible to stay in good graces and good behavior to be allowed to come back again. I mean I’ve been to PTA meetings that have gotten more hostile then anything close to what goes on in the rooms where the programs are offered.
Speaking of school, the rooms which hold the programs are much like a classroom, no metal bars anywhere. It’s a large pod building equipped with usually one or two guards at the front desk, then two long hallways with smaller rooms branching off. Catholic service is held in one of the bigger classrooms in the front right side. Inside our room there are a few long tables with regular plastic chairs, two large black chalkboards and a small TV mounted in the corner of the room complete with DVD player. There is a restroom that sits in the far back right hand corner, connected right inside the room. A real luxury for many of the inmates and sometimes a private restroom may be the only reason for one’s attendance.
Which is not a concern of mine, inmates who “use” programs to get out of lock up for an hour and a half. People who actually knew of my “going in and out of the jail to work with inmate’s life” often asked if it bothered me that some of the inmates may not all really want to be there (in a Catholic service)? The answer is NO, it doesn’t bother me at all. I have no power over a person’s intentions weather in or outside of jail. How someone becomes interested in their possible change in lifestyle or maybe even faith, has little or nothing to do with me. If all I am providing is down time from the disorder inside their pods or consuming minds, then that’s all I was able to do. We’re not really there to overwhelm anyone with a “come to Jesus” mentality, not that there’s anything wrong with coming to Jesus, of course coming to Jesus would be great. We’re really just there to offer forward-looking views, faith based inspiration, Holy Communion and maybe a lending ear. The lifestyle in which they are living right now is clearly not working. Maybe there is another way, maybe with God. The whole “God thing” seems to work for so many, maybe that’s all they’re missing.
You never know what impact your words have on others, not completely at least. There are so many times I have gone to do something and a thought pops into my mind from weeks, months or years before, that was simply not applicable to me at the time. All of a sudden the words come washing over me and they have a grave new meaning to my life. Sometimes I am given the opportunity to even go back and tell that person how profound their statement was to me and sometimes not.
Regardless, it truly felt like we were planting seeds simply by getting the opportunity to be there, for them as well as for myself. If they should take interest in what we were saying, then that’s wonderful. Maybe they were there to just “use the bathroom” and something was said that sparked their curiosity. Maybe they even pursued the program to come back once more or repeatedly while in the facility. Maybe even pursuing a life in faith and all it has to offer after serving their time. Maybe not.
I do know as far as my faith life is concerned, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever been a part of. The Catholic services kept me on my toes as to which readings were being presented along with what they personally meant to me. Praying over the messages and words that were spoken. Praying that God worked though me to be doing and saying the words that should be spoken. We would pray for the inmates and their families and friends, or lack thereof. Praying for them to be fairly judged at their upcoming hearings and for their taking responsibility for their own actions, as well as peace of mind.
Supplies like bibles get donated from places all over such as Spirit FM’s bible drive and other wonderful organizations. Maybe all my “visits” seem pointless or bizarre among others; I found it to be a strangely welcoming place. It’s a place where we walk in complete strangers and hand out bibles to so many without any questions asked and almost everyone encourages. Something that would be highly frowned upon in a “normal setting”. Imagine walking into a CVS or something to that nature and handing out bibles, we would be complete weirdos. A school teacher can barely get away with saying “Merry Christmas” during the month of December let alone saying something like “God loves you and he’s ready to meet you right where you are”.
I can’t say that I’m ever going to be the best at ministering to others, let alone inmates in jail. I can hardly recite verses in the bible or remember which Saint is in charge of helping specific tasks, but I can show up. Sometimes the best thing we can be is available. Encouraging others, praying with others, especially when they are in their darkest hours. That is what we are called to do.
Picture in Jerusalem that archaeologists believe to be possible site of the Trial of Jesus.