Thursday, March 19, 2015

TBT - My First Visit to Jail

I've never thrown back on a Thursday, like ever.

Until today.

I've been up to my eyeballs in writing projects, and part of my "research" usually involves skimming through my journals, which happens to be this blog. I'm always reminded when I read old posts that this is why I blog. It's why I started (over six years and 1553 posts ago! What.) and it's why I keep on truckin'.

It was never to have my kitchen in a magazine or land a book deal. It wasn't even to make scads of new friends and invite some of them over for salsa and re-gifts.

It was to remember. To memorialize the days that might all bleed into each other, if I let them. It was to make sense of what my heart thinks.

I know some of you have been around almost forever (are you one of them? I'd love to know!) and the rest of you trickled in somewhere along the way, maybe three years ago, maybe last month. Either way, I'm so happy you're here and I want us to get to know each other better.

To help fill in some of the gaps, and because I happen to enjoy reliving steps on this wild road, I'll be re-posting on Thursdays for a little while. I'll usually give a bit of context on why I chose that particular post.

Today, I'm posting about our journey into the jail, which actually didn't start with Cory, but with me. It was over two years ago, but feels like a lifetime. I was so nervous the first time I entered and now it's hard to imagine a time when it was foreign to me.

Since then, Cory became the full-time chaplain. I haven't visited in over a year. But the people of the jail have become our people. God continues to allow us to love and be loved by this beautiful community of souls "on the outs", people who want the same things you and I want.

This post is written proof that what might seem like the strangest, never-saw-it-coming day, could actually be the starting line of a life you never imagined.

Happy Thursday, Homies.

originally posted October 5, 2012

The officer behind the desk today is the friendly guy. (There's only one.) It's as good a sign as you can hope for at the jail. He asks Silas about Charles and laughs over my ancient Old Navy flats with their secret metal arch supports as he runs them through the machine again.

I pick up the receiver and there she is, her face as lovely as ever. She's there in her "reds" since she's a model citizen, so she stands in front of the video camera, twirls. Her cheeks flush as she tells me about her extra privileges; her, shining red in a wide sea of beige.

She swears like a sailor then says she went to a prayer meeting last night. The church ladies put their hands on her forehead and prayed for her headache. It didn't go away.

I hardly know this girl.

Her letters land in my box, tiny hearts floating above the "i"s and "j"s. We've mutually concluded that it must have been God who led me to her front stoop just 10 days before her world stopped turning.

I'd walked out that night excited about everything I saw in her in the small span of 30 minutes. It was enough. I gave her my number as I walked out the door. I watched her punch it in knowing she'd probably never call me.

We had no idea what was coming.

So here I am, her only friend. Her only visitor in almost two months. I'm the only return address and the only cash on her books for envelopes and a sports bra. She's got no one who can help. No one else sitting on the other side of the monitor.

Here's the understatement of the century: I never thought I'd see the inside of a jail.

My only frame of reference was some kind of ridiculous 1980's movie. Or maybe Shawshank Redemption. I saw myself walking down a cinder-block hall, tattooed men reaching through the bars, howling, leering. Spitting? Maybe.

Uh yeah, I watched too much TV in my younger years. (Also, single toothpicks are not whittled down from a giant oak tree, as Woody the Woodpecker would have me believe. You're welcome.)

So jail isn't what I imagined. It's just a big room full of telephones with screens. There's also a bank of vending machines that turn my smallest child into a frothing maniac. 

It's not as scary as I imagined. But it's every bit as lonely. It's maxed out with hurting people; kids without Dad or Mommy, women scrapping for less than what they deserve, men with tattooed necks whose blue eyes cast darkness like a line.

I hurt for my friends living on the inside. I miss 'em. Every week, they send me back out to the world with a smile and I'm so thankful, all the time, every day, that God gave them to me.

It seems futile to try to fix their kind of problems, so I just tell her she's smart and beautiful. I tell him that the God who made the world and him can handle a plea deal. I talk in the present tense and nudge them to dream a little about what comes next.

It never feels like enough.

It always feels a little unfair that they fill me up while I'm there.

It's exhausting and I fight the lie that I don't have time.

Because the truth is, none of it is haphazard. I fell into them for a reason.

So I go.