This testimony is long, but so much happened. I'm breaking it into three parts. May the story bless you and keep you.
I had heard of Kairos for years as I had been very active in the Emmaus Community. I had promised Crazy Ray Coward that once my time with Emmaus was over I’d come over to Kairos. So after the Fall of 2011 I had been a Lay Director for Emmaus Walk 86, Ray called. He asked me to work in the July Kairos Walk, but due to boy’s summer camp I couldn’t do it. I told him I’d do it during the Holiday season . All I knew about Kairos is that it was a prison ministry designed to show Agape love to those who know little of love.
I started attending meetings in October of this year. We had four full day meetings to prepare as an inside team for the Kairos 54. The Lay Director, Paul Draper, did a great job teaching us about our roles in the Walk, what we could legally do and not do, and previewing Christian talks (much like Emmaus).
I’ve never been inside a prison, and certainly not a maximum security prison like Ferguson. The prison is huge and holds up to about 2500 prisoners, most with multiple year sentences to life. It also takes almost 500 guards In order to carryout the Kairos Weekend it takes about 25 team members who will go into the prison including several clergy, and another 25 or so Kairos graduates from previous walks who work as Table Servants and make sure everything is in place to support the walk on the inside (remember these are current inmates who have given their lives to Christ and want to show love for others through service). There is also an outside team of 5 to 20 individuals who prepare and transport all the agape, cookies, and meals during the weekend. Kairos Cookies are a big part of the ministry. It takes about 3000 dozen cookies for each weekend event. Basically most wardens would not allow us to bring in a dozen cookies for just the 42 inmates as this would be considered “special treatment,” but if we agreed to provide every inmate in the prison and every guard a bag of a dozen cookies it would be allowed.
I went to my church (First United Methodist Church of Caldwell), Area 3:16, and Friendship Baptist and explained to them the purpose of Kairos and asked for their support for the walk. They pulled through in a big way by baking and packaging over 160 dozen cookies. My wife Tracey made another 40 dozen. Before Christmas our refrigerator, and freezer were totally packed with cookies. So much so that there was no room for Christmas leftovers. The churches also signed up for the prayer chain (promises to pray during the weekend), and I ended up with over 8 sponsors for inmates. To sponsor an inmate for the Walk costs $125.00 (this pays for food, supplies, and other extras). My Methodist Men brothers also sponsored me for the weekend to pay for the food and the hotel room. It was a true outpouring of Christian love and I am very grateful to all who helped. I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Marge Witz, and several other folks in Bryan (including Preston Dubose) who also volunteered dozens of cookies to support this endeavor.
So Wednesday afternoon I packed up and set out for Madisonville the the large First Baptist Church there who had graciously agreed to allow us to use their gym and kitchens as a base of operations. We also had the services of four men from the local House of Hope who came in to cook all the meals. The team assembled and held a final training and finished writing 42 individual letters and placing the letters in each of the inmates bags. Yes that’s 25 people writing 42 individualized letters each. After the meeting I went to the local motel and it is a total rat trap. Holes in the walls, little lighting, forty or more years old, with a major cold draft coming through the front door, little water pressure (crossed your fingers every time you flushed the toilet), and it was kinda scary parking and walking up to the room. Of course mine was in the very back of the motel on the second floor.
Got up Thursday morning and attended a Prison training by a Captain and the Chaplain. They explained all the dos and don’ts while we were in Prison and the Chaplain said he didn’t believe in “Rehabilitation” but “Regeneration,” and that he had seen many changes in the men who had attended previous Kairos Walks. We were also warned not to wear anything white in the prison, “Wear white and spend the night.” We were also reminded by Paul that we were not to ask about their conviction, what they had done, or how much time they had left. That was not the purpose we were there. We were going to share God’s love with these men.
Thursday evening we drove to the prison. My first impression was just how big the entire complex was, surrounded by fences and razor wire. We were met and checked in by the Chaplain, then went through the metal detectors and a full pat-down/search before being led into the prison proper. We went through one big gated door to a waiting area. A sign hung on the wall that said, “No hostages will ever be permitted beyond this sign.” I couldn’t help but wonder what laid beyond the next gate.
We entered the main corridor of the prison. Prisoners always walk single file against the wall, while “Free Worlders” are to walk in the middle of it. I saw about 70 men lined up to be taken somewhere. They eyed us suspiciously, but no words were said. I forced myself to meet them eye to eye, and said, “God bless you.” A few seemed shocked to be spoken to, a few others nodded, and one or two said “God bless you” right back. What really struck me about them is how young they all seemed, and how quiet they were in line.
We made it to a door that would lead up to the education center two flights of stairs up. As we waited for the guard to open the door, I heard clapping and laughter up ahead. As we moved up to the Education center we were greated by the Prison Team of Kairos convict-volunteers. They were joyful, with genuine grins/smiles, applauding us for coming and greeting each one of us with a hug and a God Bless you. Many of them knew the members of the inside team of Free Worlders from previous Kairos Walks, and the joy of reunion with friends was palpable.
I was given two name tags for the two men I was to “host” for the evening. I was given (changing names for confidentiality) Tony and George. The men in white chosen to take part in this Kairos Walk were sponsored by other prisoners, placed on a list, and had to be approved by the Warden and Chaplain. Some of the men had waited up to seven years to be allowed to attend a Kairos Weekend. The big draw for many of them was the “good, outside food” and the break from the monotony of Prison life.
As the pilgrims in white were escorted into the education wing, they were also greeted with applause, and each was announced as they entered. Some grinned shyly at the attention, some laughed, some looked around like they had just landed on Mars, and a few were stone faced and unsure. As the men’s names were called the host would move to them, say hello and place the name tag around their necks. Tony was an older gentleman, probably in his late 40s, or early 50s. He grinned from ear to ear feeling the joy of the occasion. George was also a bit older, maybe in his mid 50s, and was an African American. He had the eyes of someone who had seen and done a lot in his life, and as I would learn he had become a very wise fellow in Prison. I took them to a table and introduced Kairos, explained what would happen during the weekend and got to know them a little bit. And of course there were cookies which were consumed with much joy. Tony stated he had tried for years to get onto a Kairos Walk but had always been denied, but that he was curious about it. George said he had no idea what to expect, but he wanted to take it all in and see. My two guys were the oldest on the Walk with most of the other men being in their 20s or 30s. We then gathered and made introductions.
A tall, strongly built African American named Terry, stood up and stated that he enjoyed playing Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games and that he wanted to be a writer/game designer. His smile was contagious, but his eyes were hard, even when he smiled. When it was my turn to speak I stated that I was a History Teacher, which drew some derisive, yet fun boos from the group. I also stated that I was a game designer and writer, and Terry pointed at me and mouthed, “I’m gonna talk to you.” When I answered the question Why are you in Kairos, I stated that Jesus was very precise when he said, “visit those in prison, for when you have done this for the least of these, my family, you have done it to me.” I told them that I had come expecting to see Christ reflected in my brothers in white.
During the break Terry did seek me out, and I told him about Savage Worlds, and asked how they play in Prison without dice. He told me they made spinners for each die type. Tony told me about the various Prison recipes they had and how he could make a key-lime pie in his cell using varied ingredients. The ingenuity of the these men really blew me away, and I thought about what they could have accomplished with such ingenuity in the free world had it not been for the drugs and gangs that got most of them locked up.
We then participated in a meditation that invited them to listen, join in, and learn from the experience.
We parted for the evening and returned to the hotel. We had to go to sleep quickly as it was about 9 pm and we had to be back at the Church for breakfast by 6 am.