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.


  1. I first started reading your blog a couple of years ago - or more, I guess, since I remember this post from the first time it was posted. Just in church on Sunday my husband (who teaches our congregation's sunday school class) went over the end of the Sermon on the Mount, and on where Christ talks about where your treasure your heart will be also, and to not lay up treasures on earth, and to not worry about the future, because as he takes care of the lilies of the field he'll take care of you. It was a good conversation about not focusing on money, and on how we are all wealthy in the world today, regardless of how we feel, because we have things like cars and running hot water. Anyway (sorry...I talk a lot) after the lesson a friend of ours came up and asked my husband whether Jesus would approve of 401Ks, and my husband said, almost certainly not. (Now, I don't want to start an argument about whether 401ks are bad, or necessary, because of the world we live in - I don't know - we've never had the opportunity to have one because my husband has been a student our entire marriage, so it's never been a personal issue). But then I told my friend about you, about your blog, and not about 401ks specifically. Rather, I told about how you said on here that when you sold your farmhouse that you thought you were downsizing at least in part to help serve others with your extra money, and didn't realize that downsizing would allow Cory to, in succession, move from a job to another job that paid a lot less - that God didn't want your extra money to help people, he wanted you.

    Anyway, as I was basically testifying to my friend about how awesome your family has been as an example to me, with my husband backing me up right there, saying how great your blog is (which is memorable, because he never cares about the blogs I read), I realized how funny it was in a way, that I was talking about someone I had never met, and using you as an example to my friend of what I think Jesus really meant by being like the lilies of the field. Anyway, in Ohio on Sunday people were talking about you - in a good way :) And this post is a reminder of all that - that what is most important that we can give is not money, or making more money to give it away, but our time and ourselves.

    1. Thora, you cannot imagine how much I needed these exact words.
      For a few weeks I've been writing (or trying to write) about this exact topic, and it's SO HARD.
      Money is a tough nut to crack, and I'm afraid of where my own heart will take me, when it comes down to it. I don't usually want to choose the narrow way.
      Thank you for this encouragement and for affirming things I needed to re-hear.
      It won't surprise you a bit that I've relied heavily on those exact verses to frame my thoughts.
      God is good! He loves me! He hears me!
      Thank you for being obedient to take the time to comment here.
      God used YOU in my life, and I'm not surprised at all. Just really grateful.

  2. Thanks for re-sharing Shannon and I'll say it once again, honey, you ARE my hero. Not sure that He'll ever call me to the jail, but my heart feels so much when I read about you being there and doing so much good. God is so full of surprises, who knows, maybe He's preparing my heart through you dear one.

  3. I've been following you since way back when - farmhouse days! - while being a houseparent (foster care on steroids) I could relate to so many of your posts. i still can. now that so many of my "kids" are on the inside as well, these jail posts resonate with me, too. appreciate your realness. i try to live authentic and write authentic and I love it when I can find it elsewhere, too. plus, both of us are raised up in Ohio, now living in Northern Indiana - I like that connection :)

  4. I think I found your blog in the Fall last year, and in just a few reads it flew to the top of my must read list. You have been a huge encouragement to me to sort of be ready for anything and anyway the Lord might shake up my world--to be an obedient risk taker, I guess. I feel like I have soo so much growing to do, but I love that I can come here and read the steps God is leading your family in. The prison thing is wonderful, and makes me realize again (for the umpteenth time) that more often than not, whatever it is we are scared of is so much less scary once we jump in and embrace it. For me lately, it's loving my neighbors with my time and my friendship--it's hard to be open and vulnerable but it's what means the most.

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  6. I started reading your blog about five years ago. My younger sister (by almost 10 years) had cancer and I lived with her for awhile then finally brought her to my house where she later passed away. Over a year and a half I spent hours sitting with her, talking and watching TV, reading when she was restful...that's when I found you. You held me up for all those months of praying, hoping, crying and I never thanked you for that. It was as if I could step out of the circumstances we were in and live a few moments of your life with your sweet littles and your farmhouse and your unique and Godly slant on life. Keep spreading the word. You never know who you're reaching. Thank you, Shannan. God bless you and your family.

  7. i blog for the same reason, to make sense of all the thoughts in my heart and head. love reading your blog

  8. Love the idea of a throw back Thursday post. I've been reading for 2 years, so I missed a lot of the early ones along the way. You hooked me with "Ever Fond" when a friend shared it on FB. We've been soul mates ever since, unbeknownst to you ;)

  9. I love your blog! I started reading your blog way back in the farm days. I think I found it off of The Lettered Cottage blog. You inspire me with every post (no pressure). I find myself struggling spiritually so your post help me with that! Thank you!!

  10. Hmm. I don't remember exactly when. It was before you moved. Actually! I DO remember! It was the Crack Bark!! I found you via another blog because of that recipe. I think it was Ezra Eats? Not sure - I don't read that one any more, but I read yours - every single post. ;-)

  11. I have silently been here for years...reading some funny pros and some of the most heartfelt ripping tearing words that could ever drop from anyone's heart...all blood and have. I have loved your tenacity and your spunk..your vulnerability and love. This story you write to us, is originally written by God...and you are the ink in that pen that He has graciously allowed to flow by his hand...
    No other place I read has me thinking as much as I do when I visit here...I am not alone in that...and I know that your reach has nudged hundreds of women to follow Jesus...and perhaps some men as well. I will continue to read as I feel safe here to be real and to be encouraged.
    Thank you Shannan.