February 7, 2016
Sunday, 5:00 p.m.
Letter #421: Remember Those in Prison
It is common knowledge within the walls of a prison that a significant number of people who are in your life today will not be in your life tomorrow. Or maybe the day after tomorrow. The person who writes to you so faithfully? Yeah, that’s gonna end soon. The buddy you grew up with who visited you twice? He just got married, so good luck with that. People get busy, grow old, don’t like you any more, or even a combination of all three. Guaranteed, if you do enough time, some nice young person is going to become a busy old person who hates you.
And for all the complaining I’ve heard inmates do about how people don’t write, you’d think that inmates make the best pen pals. They do not. Most guys find every excuse to not write, including that there is nothing to write about. Nothing to write about? Look at me: I’m writing about there not being anything to write about. They could write about this guy who writes about inmates who have nothing to write about. (I have single-handedly set in motion an idea that will help pull the United States Postal Service out of its financial slump!) And just wait for that inmate to get out of prison. That same guy who was so certain that the outside world should not neglect us inmates makes all kinds of promises to keep in touch and then never does. Or he sends the customary single letter saying he got out. Maybe.
Prisoners lose their wives, kids, friends, and even pets (two of mine died), which is the opposite of today’s social media trends. Not only will you find out you have an older sister, but her classmates from kindergarten will want you to like their pictures they tagged her in at their 60th class reunion. You don’t, but that doesn’t stop everyone and their half-aunt from friending, poking, posting, and following you.
The fact that no one wants to associate with a prisoner long-term isn’t surprising, given the bridges we’ve meticulously burned over the years. What is surprising? How surprised we as prisoners are when people drift away or intentionally sever ties. We even have code terms for it: “He fell off; they aren’t there anymore; she isn’t on the team now.”
All of these short-term relationship normalities and easily forgotten friendship statistics make even more impressive the highly organized system of relationship-building and friendship-growing that Kairos Prison Ministries does. (And you thought Segways were just an awkward personal transportation device. They can also provide seamless thought transportation from one train of thought to the next, as I have just expertly demonstrated.)
I speak (or rather, write) from experience on both ends of this topic, having experienced the lack of communication from former inmates and the incredible pursuit of ongoing communication demonstrated by the high-caliber members of the Kairos organization. I attended my first Kairos event, the four-day weekend, over two years ago, and ever since then, men from Kairos have visited the prison every week for ongoing accountability, larger groups of up to fifteen men have hosted monthly reunions, and a big group comes in with food and an all-day schedule at least twice a year. One such event was held yesterday.
What takes place at these all-day events is a refreshing, rejuvenating time of fellowship and focus on God’s Word, like a spiritual spa treatment. (Disclaimer: I have never experienced a normal spa treatment, so I have no idea what I am talking about.) Times of singing are interspersed with testimonials about God’s current work in one’s life, and small-group discussions follow guided questions designed to encourage a life of discipleship focused on knowing God and loving others.
I am always amazed at how God blesses me at these events, and thus I look to receive something special. This time, however, was different from the start, as I was asked to lead worship. I set up a keyboard, chose songs from their songbook, then grabbed a guy I knew could sing, and off we went. I like a good challenge, so flowing from song to song with nothing but lyrics was good enough, but my little singer friend took requests, too, praise God.
In my small group, our outside guest was a successful businessman and former college football player just returned home from a mission trip to China to set up a flag football league. I asked all kinds of questions, but we had a know-it-all in our group, too, who would always butt in to everyone’s comments with his own advice and spiritual fix: “You know, the hardest thing for anyone to do is to let go of past hurts,” he’d begin, then launch into self-appointed counselor mode.
Yes, it got annoying, and no, I didn’t let it show. When the guest mentioned his adopted son, the guy jumped in with troubles with foster kids accepting their new parents, etc. I prayed to see if God had anything He wanted me to say, and He gave me advice to share, once I’d asked and clarified for the know-it-all that our guest’s son was adopted at birth. I carefully suggested what God had given me, and our guest wiped tears and thanked me. I was then selected to coordinate and host the next all-day reunion event, to model it for future inmate hosts.
Thank you for your ongoing example of love and support by reading what I write, even if you are getting tired of being on the team.