L & M.S. didn't really share much else. But S did. S is a 23 yr old black woman with tats on her arm and on the top of both her hands. She had a red combing brush in her hand. Because her release was approaching in two weeks, I asked her, "When you get out of here, what are you going to do?". She talked about having two young children and needing to get a legit job so ACS would leave her alone. She said, "After I get my short money job...". She paused. "To tell you the truth, I'm gonna be a stripper." She explained that having a felony on her record would prevent her from getting a real job and making real money.
One of the volunteers began to speak with her about stripping not being the best choice. S acknowledged she had low self-esteem and didn't want really to show her body but she needed a way to make good money. She shared how she would never prostitute herself like some other women at the facility have done. M.S. joined in, "Once you get accustomed to making fast money, slow money is not an option."
After some time I jumped in and began encouraging S on the possibility of braiding hair on the outside. She shared how she enjoyed it and how at least half a dozen ladies in the yard were sporting her work.
At this time the music started and we slowly maneuvered our chairs towards the front. Just like the morning session, we sang some praise songs, listened to a female pastor share her life story, followed by another female pastor preach the Gospel message of Jesus' love.
My heart was delighted as M, M.S., S, L & Z all made a confession of sin and asked Jesus Christ to be both Lord and Savior of their lives. I assisted them with their paperwork and had time to pray individually with Z. Z told me she knew nothing about the Bible or church. I encouraged her and we prayed.
Afterward I found M, MS & S talking with one of the retired COs. He was advising them on life on Rikers with Jesus Christ in their lives. All 5 of us prayed. I saw the hope in their eyes. It was different. They were different. It was as if the "On" switch was flipped. I could see it in their eyes.
When we finished praying, they were called to line up. They had to go back inside. We watched. Some volunteers waved. Some blew kisses. I looked down at the response cards which were filled out. One read, "Thank you for coming today." Another read, "Now I know God loves me."
I sat on the bench just trying to process what transpired. God showed up in a powerful way. I really understood God's love for me by saving me from the destructive path that I was previously on. God used seven lovely women to show me His love.
As I am writing this part 3, it has been seven days since this Hope Festival happened. I still think and pray for these women and the many others on Rikers. Every time 11pm beeps on my watch I think "Lights out!". I know when 5am blinks they are waking up to get ready for breakfast.
There is no other way to say it. My world was rocked @ Rikers Island during the Hope Festival.
If you have never visited a jail or a prison, I highly recommend you do so with your church or some community organization. Be encouraged by the words of Jesus:
"I was in prison & you came to visit me...when you visited one of the least of these, you visited me." (Matt. 25:36,40 paraphrased)