We asked Sarah, an Inmate Outreach Services intern last summer, to share some of the many things she learned during her prison visits and this is what she sent back to us.
1. Many prisoners just need someone to listen. During a prison ministry weekend event, four interns from The City Mission got the opportunity to talk with different inmates. One intern kept a conversation going with one woman for over an hour! This inmate really needed to share her thoughts, feeling, hopes and fears with someone.
2. There is no such thing as a “stereotypical” prisoner. Every single person in prison has a different background. In the same facility there was a woman who was a heart surgeon and another woman who made a living selling meth. It’s impossible to find two prisoners with the same story.
3. Prisoners are always thinking about getting out. Whether their release date is in six months or five years, these inmates are always talking about their plans for once they’re back “on the outside.”
4. Correctional Officers do not need to be mean in order to gain respect. Which officers are the ones respected and obeyed in the prisons – the ones that swear at or talk down to the prisoners, or the one who treats them with dignity? The wardens or correctional officers that treat the prisoners as human beings are the ones who see positive changes in their inmates. Many inmates in the women’s facility even seek one correctional officer’s counsel and advice.
5. It is possible to be joyful while in prison. What’s the secret ingredient to joy? Jesus Christ! I was blown away with the joy that radiated from one female inmate. She couldn’t stop talking about the supremacy of Christ! She had just finished a 6-month study of carefully reading through the story of David in the Bible, as well. I couldn’t help but admit that I often fail to possess such a joy or dedication to Scriptures – and I’m not the one in prison!
6. Many prisoners are searching for truth while in prison. Often realizing that what they had been doing was not working for them, many prisoners begin a process of soul searching in prison. They have plenty of time to read and discuss religion with other inmates. Although the chaplain in most prisons is a Christian chaplain, there are a variety of different religions that the chaplain needs to respect. The Church of Wicca, a religion of witchcraft, is currently permeating the women’s facility in Cleveland.
7. Prisoners still have a sense of humor! While visiting Lake Erie Correctional Institution for a post-release fair, one inmate stopped by our table to grab a few extra pieces of candy. As he walked away, he dropped his handful and they skidded across the floor. With a huge goofy grin he said, “Oops! Looks like I stole these. Oh well, I’m already in prison!”
8. The horrors of life are their reality. I have seen modern TV-series where plot lines seem too “out there” to be realistic. But then I think back to the stories I heard from prisoners this summer of murder, sexual abuse, theft, and drug addictions, just to name a few. Television entertainment does not compare to the realities of their life. It surprised me how nonchalantly they discuss these situations, too! To me, it seems almost implausible. To them, it’s just their everyday life.
9. It’s only by the grace of God that all of us are not in prison. All illegal activity that lands people in prison is just the result of sin and corruption in this world. One prisoner may be caught up in immoral activities or be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it’s only by the grace of God that it isn’t me or you in their situation. You are not a better person because you are not in prison, because all fall short of the glory of God. Thank God for His grace in your life!
10. Prisoners are a blessing. I thought I was going to bless prisoners this summer by investing my time in the Inmate Outreach Services with The City Mission. But without a doubt, the greatest lesson I learned was that these men and women were actually blessing me. My eyes were opened to the dignity of every person made in the image of God, the forgiveness and compassion of Christ, and the awesome power of Christ’s redemption. Now I want to dedicate my life to prison ministry in order to experience this fellowship and mutual blessing with the incarcerated population!