What a Trip to the State Prison Taught Me

This is a guest post by my good friend Lynn Hare, author, speaker, and teacher, who enthusiastically provides grace-filled messages about encouragement, prayer, and practicing the presence of the Holy Spirit. A member of Oregon Christian Writers, she lives in Portland with her husband, Tim, of thirty-two years. Her inspirational pieces appear in numerous Christian periodicals. You can find Lynn’s messages at www.lynnhare.com/blog and on Facebook.

Prisoner prayingI walk through the front door of the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. Along with four other authors, I drop my shoes, watch, and keys onto a conveyor belt that slides them beneath a security x-ray machine. We make our way along cracked gray walls and dingy concrete floors from one security checkpoint to another.

We enter a cafeteria-like room with long rectangular tables, its perimeter lined with caged-in offices. I take a few deep breaths to shake off the steadily-climbing heat and push down a wave of claustrophobia. Seventy men in denim take seats at the tables.

We read essays about the grace of Christ. I draw laughter with my piece, Hamster Chutes, Lightning Bolts and Ostriches. Afterwards, we mingle with the inmates. I meet Calvin and Ron, and ask them, “How is God using incarceration to mature you?”

Calvin says he’s learning that every decision counts. If life is a book, he says, he’s living chapter six of his twelve-chapter story. Every day, he gets to choose his attitude and actions. He prays the prayer of Jabez. He’s been journaling for three days. He says the Lord’s opening his spiritual eyes. Each day as he steps outside his cell, the Lord expands his “territory” of people with whom to interact. He wants to pastor other prisoners with his gifts of discernment and exhortation.

Then I chat with Ron. He says that years ago, when two men held him up at gunpoint, he shot and killed them. For the first fifteen years of his sentence, he was furious with God, because he lost his freedom for an act of self-defense. Then, a year ago, his sister, who visits him often, told him she was healed of an illness at a church service. Ron’s spirits lifted and he returned to Christ. He’s now president of the Toastmasters club at the prison, actively encouraging other inmates.

I talk to a few more prisoners. They talk. I listen.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we . . . see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Jesus, in Matt. 25: 37-40)

Reaching out to those who are stuck in anger, fear, or rejection is a lot like visiting prisoners in that jail. How do we interact with them? Here are three action points:

  • To bring hurting people the strength and power of Christ, sometimes we need to go outside our routines and join them. Instead of waiting for them to come to our churches, social clubs, or athletic events, we need to step onto their turf and meet them where they’re at.
  • When we hang out with those who want to connect with the Holy Spirit, our role is to listen. They get healed as they tell their stories. Calvin and Ron were visibly encouraged as they shared how their leadership skills are expanding. They were even more uplifted when I told them I’d include them in this blog.
  • Every day, our Heavenly Father gives us a chance to increase our sphere of influence as we speak to people about His goodness. The lonely. The scared. The outcast. What does God want us to speak into them? Well-placed words of encouragement and hope.

Questions: Friend, have you been inside a prison? What was it like? When you share the good news of Christ, how does it mature you? Who are you setting free today?