Saturday was a big day.
It began with a morning meditation, discussion and a few new talks. The men who had come a day and a half before as standoffish and unsure, were up and dancing to I’ll Fly Away and Riding the Train, and the Kairos song. Several began giving their lives to Christ and even Reyes began opening up. I really began forming friendships with the men and Jose began really opening up to me. He had been in gangs his whole life and was in a prison gang. He said he was troubled, because he wanted to be a Christian, but stated he didn’t think he could give up the gang as they had been his life in prison. He has two sons, and he misses them terribly. In fact all the men at my table except Terry and Sonny had children. Wayne has an 18 year old son, Reyes has five children, and Gavin has a 16 year old son. Wayne stated that his son was much wiser than he was, had stayed out of trouble and out of gangs and was very focused on his education and was planning on going to college. His son had visited him last weekend and that he felt blessed that God had taken care of his family, when his choices had not allowed him to. Gavin showed us a picture of his son playing football. Reyes began opening up about his family. He told me he found it hard to trust anyone, but that he had accepted Christ last year. His oldest son, at 17, had written him a letter that broke his heart and led to him seeking God. He gave me the letter and asked that I read it to the table. The letter his son wrote was angry. He asked “Why did you choose drugs and gangs over your family. I need a father and you are not here.” Reyes then told us his story. He worked for one of the big Mexican gangs running drugs from Mexico to Georgia. He had been a leader and had made so much money that he owned ranches, trucks, and lived in a mansion. He had been arrested at 22 years old and had spent most of the last two decades in prison. His heart was broken by his failure to be a father to his son. He stated he was up for parole soon and he was afraid he might go back to the gang for easy money. He stated that when he gets out, they will meet him, give him ten to twenty thousand dollars of seed money, and get him back into it. He stated he was going to tell them no, that he had accepted Christ and that they would leave him alone, but they would be watching him. He said if I do anything, drugs, etc., that they would be angry with him and possibly kill him. We wanted to get out, get his kids and move to Fort Worth or somewhere far from the valley.
At lunch Sonny opened up to me and stated that he had spent the past ten years in prison, and had 15 more to go. He stated he had been in the Air Force, suffered severe burns on his hands, and had been mustered out. He had a hard time finding a job, got into drugs and soon was involved in an aggravated assault where a man had been killed. He cried remembering what had happened. “ All I want is a life out of here. To get married, have children, be a dad.” I know he was doing the punishment for his crime and deserved it, but that God had forgiven him and that there is a life for him when he gets out. We discussed this and he prayed with me.
Terry had a way of deflecting whenever things got heavy. He used jokes and a tough exterior to deflect, but there were many times I saw the wall being broken down stone by stone. He told me that no one in the world cared about him, unconditionally, except for his Grandmother. He challenged me, stating “Are you going to come back? Do you really care?” He found it difficult to believe that all these men would give up their time and money to come into the prison just to show agape love
Jose began to open up to me as well. He had been so distrusting of me at first, but by Saturday he was very open with me and had shed a few tears. He told me that tattoo picture on his neck was his father, who still loved him and still visits with him. He was hurting about his kids, as he stated “their mother won’t let them communicate with me.” He stated he would be up for parole soon, but he didn’t know what he would do out in the world. He had been in prison for half his life. He was honest and said he was still in a gang and wasn’t sure he could get out of it. We talked and I witnessed to him that if he truly wanted to change his life through Christ, he would have to leave the gangs. That if he stayed in them, it wouldn’t be long before he was back in prison. He cried and hugged my neck, the pain of a father missing his family, a lost person in a deep hole. Later he drew a poster of a ladder of Christ descending into a deep hole to allow you to crawl out to glory, freedom, and love. God was truly working on Jose throughout the weekend.
Wayne was a Christian, who quoted the Bible, and loved the Agape he felt. He might have been one of the inside team with his sharing of wisdom and Christ’s love for all.
Gavin was quiet, just as he had been in school, but he took it all in and wowed us with the following poem:
“Christian Action….What it is, or should I say what it was, it really don’t matter because we are all from up above.
Heaven is the Home of peace and happiness. Look at this world today. Can you tell me what is happening? Destruction we bring to this world of ours, when will we stop? Today? Tomorrow? Next year?
The pain we bring amongst ourselves make me shed a tear. Selling drugs, shooting slugs, walking around the world with mean mugs. Why not walk around showing love and giving hugs, too much pride got us messed up. Open your eyes and make a change, accept Jesus in your life to erase the pain because God is at your door, if you really want to change.”
Harold Z______, Tracey’s prayer partner sought me out. “I hear your wife is praying for me.” He said with tears in his eyes. “I need it brother. I need to know people care. My grandmother is raising my daughters, and she is sick. Please prayer for us. Tell your wife how much her doing this means to me.” I hugged him and stated I would tell her, and that others were praying for him as well.
It was George’s birthday, and at lunch we all sang Happy Birthday to him. He came to me in the evening and hugged me stating that this was the best birthday he had ever experienced.
That day I, as one of four newbies, were taken out to do the Prison cookie run. Two Kairos servants assisted us (they did all the real work of handing out the cookies). Our job was to smile and speak to each man in the institution. It was easy on the regular cell blocks. The men were all happy to get the cookies, and most wanted to shake my hand and say thank you. I greeted them with a smile, God bless you, and when I saw someone who seemed to need it, I promised them that we were praying for them. The small cells were really tiny, and there were two metal bunk beds in each, with a small toilet. The movies don’t do such a place justice. The smell, the feel, and the sight of it will remain with me forever.
I then went to the Ad-Seg, or Administrative Segregation cell block, where men were separated from everyone else for 23 hours a day in their small cells. When we first entered, they were yelling, cussing, and talking about Kairos Cookies. I had to wear a flak vest to be allowed into the cell blocks. It was amazing to me how when I approached each of the cells, the men would stop whatever they had been doing or saying and give me a hard stare. I would smile and say, “God Bless you. Enjoy the cookies. We are praying for you.” Every one of the men, nodded, smiled, said thank you, or returned a God Bless you too. It was an eye-opening experience.
Saturday evening we took part in a forgiveness ceremony, where we forgave those we had not forgiven before. Terry was really taken by this, and crying he revealed to me that he had never forgiven anyone for anything before, but that the ceremony meant a lot to him. Again he asked me, “Are you really coming back to visit me?” I promised that I would, as it is a vital part of the Kairos ministry that we come out every month for groupings. By the time we all parted ways, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Imagine hardened criminals, gang bangers, tattooed all over, with scars, one man with Adolf Hitler tattooed on the back of his neck, all hugging each other and sharing, and singing, praying, and laughing together. It was a sight to see!
Here are a few other observations I made. I witnessed one inmate witnessing to a guard about Christ’s love and forgiveness. One of them said, “When we leave here and go back to the blocks, what had been a dungeon for us, isn’t any longer. We’ve been set free.” Jose cried remembering his mother telling him, “Tell me who you are running with, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Wayne said, “I’ve been in prison a long time. I appreciate the blessings God has given me since I’ve been locked up. He looks out for my family and keeps them safe.” Another man said, “Behind bars, I have lots of time to think. What I shoulda, coulda, woulda. It’s time to make better choices. We can’t do none of this without God!”
It had been a very good day. I had what I had come for. I had seen Christ reflected in these men.