Today was the first time I ever went to jail. No, I did not do a crime. I actually attended the "Hope Festival" sponsored by various churches in the NYC area. This was done in conjunction with Prison Fellowship.
I was in the parking lot of Rikers Island @ 7:30am. Although I drove by myself, I was comforted that I recognized other volunteers in the parking lot. For most of the time I was quiet. I really had no expectations of what it would be like on the inside.
The day was split up into a morning and an afternoon session. As one of the handful of male volunteers in this all female facility, I was unsure how my presence would be received.
Before I knew it, we were in the yard. We went through security, the hand stamping, the gates, and then this door which led to the yard. I was transporting music equipment so I let myself get occupied with that.
When we arrived in the yard, some women were already there seated in chairs. I helped set up the equipment. Thank God I had something to keep me busy. :)
After some time, I made my way to a group of 5 women in chairs, 3 of which were volunteers. One of the inmates was sharing how God had touched and transformed her life. Her name is C. She's a short light skinned Latina in her 20s. She's a passionate woman who loves to talk with her whole body. It didn't sound like she knew God for that long but you can tell God has been working in her life. She shared some experiences inside and how she looks forward to her time of departure which is coming real soon.
Most of the rest of the conversation centered around a short caramel colored 30 year-old lady named E. Yeah, E has a heroin addiction. Her history is not the most encouraging, yet it is very familiar. Her dad was incarcerated so she never grew up with him. She has a step-dad who abused her in various ways from the age of 12 to 17. By 17 she bounced from home and went to live with her boyfriend for the next 14 years. The boyfriend provided safety and stability. He took care of the bills and provided for her. 9 years ago E had her first child, a boy. After her son was about 2, she started messing with drugs, especially heroin. Over the last 7 years, the longest she has been clean was 2 weeks. Fortunate for her she has a brother who prays. He's a minister. Also fortunate for her is she had to detox when she got to Rikers. We prayed for C & E and their families. Life ain't all roses, and these women have hurts and pains that were very real.
After the other 3 volunteers and C stepped away, I got to share more with E regarding a scripture that is dear to my heart. Psalm 34:18 says, "God is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves those who are crushed in their spirit." I encouraged E that the truth that "God is near to those who have a broken heart" is for everyone. I'm happy to tell you that after we sang some praise songs, and after the powerful testimony by one of the pastors, and after a powerful preaching by another pastor, E gave her life to Jesus Christ.
E's face is stitched in my memory. Her scar on the middle of her forehead. The eyebrows which needed to be threaded. Her small frame sitting in her green jumpsuit with the black socks with small white stripes. E is not a dumb lady. But she has made poor choices. Her boyfriend died from an asthma attack three months ago. I could tell that really bothered her. She blames herself for not being there. While she was getting high somewhere else, he had a little party in his home with a bunch of customers...I mean junkies (He sold dope). He caught a bad asthma attack which led to death. After the junkies took his money and dope, they then called the cops. When E found out, she never went back home.
Two months later (this past June) she was en route to meet her son after his little league baseball game. She stopped off in to a store and got arrested for petit larceny. The saddest part is she had the money in her pocket. Why she stole the items she never mentioned? What she did mention is she will be processed to another facility in a few weeks. Please keep E & C in your prayers.
(end of Part 1)
Read Part 2