It has taken me about a week to process the rest of last weekend. Some of that has to do with a crazy work week, some really overwhelming hours in the office, and then traveling to Atlanta for 24 hours, but most of it can be chalked up to the fact that I am still in awe and somewhat overwhelmed with my three-day jail experience.
My last post covered more of the setting and set up of the weekend. When I left you, we were wrapping up the first day. The team and the female residents were running on adrenaline and excitement. I went to bed on Friday night full of energy and love and hope. Saturday morning was an early one – I am not used to seeing the sun rise over downtown Orlando – but it was well worth the 5:30 wake up call. As I got dressed, made my coffee, and drove on Interstate 4 through downtown, it occurred to me that I was going to spend the day with women who woke up on metal slabs in the same clothes they slept in the night before, who were being served a breakfast of “warm crap” around 5:45, and had no idea what we would be doing for the rest of the day.
As we walked inside the dorm, we saw women sitting on their bunks, waiting to see what would happen next. We set up our tables, and brought our same table-mates back to sit with us. The day commenced with more talks, singing, worship, and prayer. We could only take bathroom breaks when it worked for the women who have one as well, which meant getting the men out first, then having the women line up at the stalls, they getting the rest of the team out, then coming back in when everyone was present and accounted for.
Lunch in the Dollar Diner had become a precious time for us to reconvene, talk about what was happening at the tables, and who needed what. Saturday ran so smoothly. We had an INCREDIBLE Correction’s Officer who made our jobs to easy. She was completely supportive of our team and we had a great day.
Without giving away too many details, the theme of Saturday was related to what it means to let go of the things that are killing us – things like addiction, pride, unforgiveness, resentment, etc. We had some incredible conversations around our table about how hard it is to let those things go because we all want justice and revenge. At the end of the day, each table was asked present a poster or skit or song about what they had learned so far. My table was AMAZINGLY creative, so we presented an original skit and a poster. Directed by one of the older inmates, our skit was about a former inmate walking into the church for the first time and some of the church members are welcoming while others (played by yours truly) scoffed and scowled and even walked out of the service. By the end of our skit, everyone embraces each other and sings together.
This may seem simple and even silly to some, but I found it to be a profound statement regarding what life is like when my friends in jail are released back into life and expected to change their ways. While they maintain forced sobriety and have the best of intentions while they are incarcerated, the world has not changed when they leave their bunk. It is still hard to get a job. There is still no money in the bank. The food pantry is still empty. Their pimp is still waiting for them. And they are no more welcome in most churches than they were before. To many of my friends in 33rd, nothing and nowhere is safe on the outside. If someone isn’t judging them, someone is trying to use or abuse them.
I tell the women in jail every Sunday that they are a part of our church family, and I mean that, but I am not sure they are able to believe me because they have never been welcomed anywhere. Why should they believe me now? What makes this time any different?
I am not naive enough to believe that after one weekend in jail, I have radically changed anyone’s life and made their transition out easy. That just isn’t reality. My hope is that we were abel to inject a little hope into their lives so that they would want to look for someone or something different when they get back out and re-enter a very dark world.
Stay tuned for Part 3….