The girls and I went to jail yesterday.
It was quite an experience, to say the least.
We went with a girls’ club group that meets monthly, where they learn about issues like health and personal safety. (Both of which were a tad bit threatened, I should mention, as we walked past the inmates–but more on that later.)
The sheriff and several cops took turns explaining the many aspects of their job and about life in jail. They lectured about making good choices and answered questions from the kids and parents for a good hour and half.
Then it was time for lunch. Yep, jail lunch.
My mind quickly flashed back to the scene from the movie Shawshank Redemption where the prisoners were served mush with maggots.
But to our surprise (and relief), the lunch looked decent. On the tray was what looked to be a cheeseburger, corn, potato chips, and a big slice of cake. No maggots.
Annie bit into the cheeseburger and said, “It’s actually really good!” Katie’s burger remained untouched but she did eat the chips and corn.
The sandwich took me instantly back to my elementary lunch days when they served Hoagie Steak sandwiches (anyone else remember those sandwiches?). It tasted exactly like that.
After lunch came the tour. The very eye-opening tour.
The sheriff took us up in the elevator to different floors of the enclosed, no-windows building. We saw several empty cells–the usual lone toilet and sink and hard bed as you would see on TV or in the movies.
Then the sheriff said we would be walking past inmates and looking in on where they live and spend their free time. Uh, really? Several thoughts ran across my mind. Aren’t my girls too young for this? Plus I hated the fact that the inmates may feel like they were on display. It just felt intrusive and unnecessary. But the sheriff led us on.
Annie was really too young to understand the reality of jail life, so she was in her own usual self-entertaining world. Katie, on the other hand, grabbed my hand, looked at me and said that she was nervous. Me too, I admitted. “God loves them too,” I told her. “Just pray for them as we walk by.” She smiled and nodded in agreement.
It’s hard to put into words what it felt like as we walked past the inmates. The sheriff instructed us not to make eye contact or talk with them. But as a deaf person, eye contact is essential. I wanted to look each inmate in the eye as we passed by, to somehow let them know that they were valued. But it also felt awkward. So I mainly glanced over their faces with what I hope came across as a respectful nod. There were young guys, some covered in tattoos with long hair and some clean cut. Old men too, who looked as if they’d spent most of their lives behind bars.
It was heart-piercing.
Later, my friend would tell me the comments that several inmates made.
Oh, look, we’re on display.
You’ll bring these kids through, but you won’t allow my four-year-old here.
Of course, they bring out the white people.
(But for the record, our group had black people too.)
One inmate was friendly and kept telling the kids to stay in school, make good choices, and stay on the other side of these bars.
When the tour was done, I couldn’t wait to get out of that building. Though it was clean and well-maintained, it felt stifling and suffocating.
And to think those guys are in that building, day in and day out…
Before we left, we all gathered in the sheriff’s office, and our leader prayed for protection and guidance for all those in the building.
The sheriff expressed appreciation for the prayer and then gave the kids some good advice.
“Keep the Lord in your lives.”
And Lord, may each of the inmates connect with You and find redemption–and inner freedom.