by Donna K. Rice
The clanking sounds of the doors rolling closed behind actors entering a prison in the movies are accurate. Last week, I experienced hearing that noise behind me for the first time. It made me think about freedom, and the loss of it. Fortunately, my time behind electric, razor-wired fences was limited to a visit for a current WIP. Relax friends, I haven’t slipped to the other side of the law!
I’m working with a prison minister on a book he wants to put into the hands of the men he ministers to each week. We’ve talked many times about his four prison sentences, why criminals do what they do, and his move from prison to pulpit. The manuscript is in progress, but I wanted to see what he was doing. Go, participate, and observe. Research outside the interviews and computer. For a writer, seeing the sights and smelling the smells adds dimension and texture to our words. We all know that. But the heart side of writing often needs that in-person experience to kick the words into high gear. So it was with my trip to prison.
For one hundred fifty minutes, I moved among prisoners in a medium security building within a prison campus housing thirty-five hundred male inmates. That night, around thirty-five men crowded into a small room to hear Jesus proclaimed in the name of freedom from their sin and past. They ranged in age from early twenties to sixty something. Some had only months to serve and others were in their fourth decade behind bars. I didn’t ask about their crimes. It felt intrusive and personal to pry. None of my business.
But sheltered me encountered, in the eyes and faces of those prisoners, some of the deepest need for God’s love I’ve ever seen. Many spoke to me, thanked me for coming. Others stood to give testimony during the service and nervously glanced my way to see if I was listening. Two of the men, each of whom had served decades, had eyes alight with a knowledge of God. They’d been saved in prison ministry years before. Everyone else reflected degrees of need ranging from, “I’m just checking this out to see if it’s real,” to, “I’m scared, hurt, alone, and want to know if you and your God will accept me as I am.” Faces that were hard and shadowed at the beginning of service, softened as the preacher spoke and God worked His love a little deeper into their understanding. This book will be a part of that process one day. Hope delivered in yet another form.
Next week, there’s a larger service with several hundred prisoners. After that, I’ll meet with a small group and ask them how the ministry affects their lives. I’ll go to prison twice next week in pursuit of research for this book. I’ll try to understand the felt needs of our target audience, but I’ll also understand a little more about the great big love our God has for each of us, no matter our circumstance. You see, He was in prison, too. Setting men free.
Donna K. Rice writes both non-fiction and fiction. She’s a licensed minister, Director of Women’s Ministry for the Apostolic Christian Network, conference speaker, and estate planning attorney. Contact Donna at donnakrice.com.