Friday, February 16, 2007

jumpsuits and pretty feet

At any moment this week, I think I could have sat down and rambled on about what I’ve wanted to post since last Friday. I don’t think I’d have had any trouble finding words. Time is a different matter. There’s been none. Last week was that way too - suppose they all will be. But last week, tagged on bright and early at the end of the week, I was to do Chapel at Kirkland Prison, across the river from us. I had so much to get done last week that it was relegated to the back burner, where it still managed to steal attention from everything I did all week. And I was in a continuous fantasy that I was Johnny Cash getting ready to play at Folsom Prison or San Quentin. We’d gone to see John Mayer the night before and I had to be at the security check at 8:00am Friday morn.
When we got home from coffee sipping and friendship at midnight after the Mayer concert, I’d not yet done any actual physical prep for Chapel that morning, although it had swam in my head all week. I was pretty nervous.
This chapel is a part of the curriculum of a new Associates degree program that we’re offering. Everyone in the program is serving a life sentence. They’ve been moved here from prisons all over the state to participate, and are training to be ministers in the only community they will ever know.
All week, I’d wondered at what was appropriate, what might sound insensitive, offensive, disconnected to those guys, but biblical prison/freedom language kept playing in my head. By Thursday, I’d decided to stop worrying about the prison/freedom language because I realized that it was precisely the message of freedom that these guys were training to bring to their fellow prisoners. I focused on Jesus’ quoting Isaiah and claiming the anointing to proclaim liberty to the captives and set the prisoners free. This was why they are in the program and I was to encourage them.
I told them that Johnny Cash was my patron saint and that I’d pretended I was him all week. I wore black and talked with them, shared the scriptures with them, we sang together from Isaiah, I played guitar for them, and prayed with them. I seemed not to offend anyone, I think I actually did encourage them and they certainly encouraged me. A real connection was made, and I came away feeling even more like Johnny Cash than I had all week.
It was terribly refreshing to speak and sing with, to play for hungry people who weren’t distracted by cool songs, hot licks, pastel shirts, powerpoint. A room full of colorful men, all dressed in the same color jumpsuits with SCDC emblazoned on the back. A picture of the Kingdom. Prisoners given freedom behind bars, carrying the message of freedom to other captives. The Kingdom is an upside-down, inside-out, not-of-this-world concept. Men imprisoned in their freedom, but being freed in captivity. What’s that all about?
I bear the symbol of rebirth, of second chances, of death defied and conquered. We all shared the gift of Beauty from ashes, oil of gladness instead of mourning, prison jumpsuits as a garment of praise instead of despair.
They shall be called Oaks of Righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
I saw the Lord’s splendor in that room last Friday morning in the eyes of those acorns.

Say to the prisoner, and to those in darkness, “come out and see yourselves in the light.”