Reflections

‚ÄčCover Story

 

When are we the host, and when the visitor?  When the stranger, and when the welcome insider?

 

To experience worship inside a prison is to experience a plethora of paradoxes.  We come to proclaim freedom through the grace of Christ; and we come to a place that exists for the purpose of confinement.  Those who are often most in need of the meal are those restricted from receiving this sacramental gift.  We come bearing gifts in a facility that for decades has focused on punitive deprivation rather than the restorative bestowal of Love freely given.

 

Within this conundrum of paradoxes, the surprising gifts of host and visitor, stranger and insider never cease to delight this pastor as signs of God’s presence (and sense of humor) in prison—a place too often left unexperienced by God’s children.  Yes!  What a shame to miss the mighty and beautiful paradoxes happening there…

 

Last evening, I brought ten trays of Chinese food into the prison, I out-counted thirteen women who comprise the Inside Church Council of New Beginnings during count, set up tables in our worship space, and went to the lobby to pick up our guests from an outside church who helps to support us.

 

Those of you unfamiliar with prison may ask, and?  Well, first, it is no easy task to bring outside food into a prison.  Second, it is no easy task to get the Shift Commander to let a pastor keep thirteen women out of their “rooms” while the prison population is counted.  Third, it is only by the inmate’s ingenuity born of necessity that we turned the space into a welcoming place of beauty.  But the fourth is most noteworthy.  

 

Our guests who are in many ways our hosts as they help to support us, came from a distance with no expectation except that they’d probably eat in the Chow Hall with many inmates.  They came with their pastor.  The stranger/inmate/now hosts stood behind the buffet table to offer assistance.  The stranger/now hosts prayed for all.  The inmates/now momentarily free children of God presented hand-made gifts of flowers and paper fortune cookies with scripture “fortunes” inside.  

 

As everyone broke bread together and shared their stories, there were no longer any strangers.  All were welcome insiders, and one pastor who shall remain nameless forgot herself and hugged everybody!

 

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.[…] As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.  But they urged him strongly, saying ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’  So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at the table wth them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”

 

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Lacie's Story

Part I
 
To glorify God, we, as Christians, endure hard situations.  Some may bear only a small portion of hardships and others too many to count.  Either way, we all share something in common; we all have a common denominator and that is our heavenly father.  He is the way, the truth and the light.  In all of life’s struggles, pains, joys and happiness, he is there with his arms wide open celebrating or mourning with us.  For that, and many other things, I am grateful and appreciative beyond words.  God, you are so good.
 
Growing up, my life was not always easy.  I grew up with parents who were alcoholics and drug addicts.  Don’t get me wrong though.  They loved my two siblings and me.  I know that for sure.  They just worked hard and therefore played hard as well.
 
My dad worked construction all his life.  My mom was a waitress for 30 years.  We children had everything we needed and were provided for.  We even went on several family summer vacations that were probably my favorite part of growing up.  
 
My parents taught me many things, but I believe two things play the biggest part in my life today.  They are loyalty to the ones you love and to always be there for your friends and family no matter what the past holds.
 
Unfortunately, with the responsibility of taking care of my little sister (my dad worked hard all day he slept all evening and my mom worked all night), it became too much for someone so young.  I had to take care of her, cook dinner, do dishes, do my homework all the while taking care of her and dragging her around to my friends’ homes or whatever activity I was involved in.  I also was made fun of by my father and brother so I began over-eating when I was upset.
 
I initiated my first addiction at the age of 11, which was overeating.  I gained 60 pounds and by the time I was 13, I weighed 200 pounds.  Before the age of 14, I lost 60 pounds.  This addiction has left me with my weight fluctuating up and down all through my life.  This addiction was also a gateway to many other addictions I have suffered through.
 
I am only 34, but I sure have gone through a lot within those 34 short years.  There is so much, sometimes I feel I have lived several lives.  What’s so unique about these pains I have had to bear, is that God was and is equipping me to be used in several people’s lives inside and outside of prison.  I never thought it was possible.  I am just like everyone else—nothing special—just ordinary.  That’s the beauty though.  God uses his children in ways they never thought possible.
 
At the age of 14 that was when my adolescence truly became a distant memory.  That is when I started smoking pot, drinking, smoking cigarettes and lost my virginity.  When I was 16, my brother smoked meth with me for the first time.  This addiction went on and off until 2005.
 
I got pregnant with my first son, Damyn at 17 years old.  Damyn was--I thought anyway—the most beautiful baby ever.  I was also a runaway at 17 with Damyn’s dad.  I dropped out of high school a handful of times due to my addictions, running away and having a baby.  But growing up, one of my dreams was to graduate high school and go to college.  I finally graduated high school when I was 21.  I am still in college.  Little did I know I would have to come to prison to achieve that dream!
 
When I was 23, I conceived my second son, Roy.  (I also thought he was the most beautiful baby ever.)  At 71/2 months pregnant, Roy’s dad and I got married.  Becoming pregnant with both of my children was one of the many times I believe God not only saved me from myself, but I was given chance after chance to do something better.  Both times, I was strung out on drugs.  When I found out I was with child, I quit.  Those two amazing boys’ lives saved mine.  Unfortunately, I was so broken it didn’t last long and within two years I was doing drugs again.
 
The spring of 2005, my husband and I both got sober and moved to Baily, Colorado.  Who would have known changing your playmates and playground was so life changing.  We found an amazing church where we became very involved.  We even were given the chance to be youth ministers.  Those couple of years were some of my most happiest.
 
The summer of 2006, my husband and I were falsely accused of the worst crime imaginable.  In 2007, we were both offered a plea deal from the DA.  We both refused it and were going to fight for the truth to be known.  The next day after begin offered this deal, my husband went behind my back and took the deal.
 
Years later, this became my demise or so I thought.  By doing this, he made me look guilty.  Needless to say, we are no longer married.  Meanwhile, I continued my journey to fight for my innocence.
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Visitor Experience

      Sue’s Post Holiday Reflection

 

As family holiday celebrations and traditions may change through the years, eyes and hearts have the opportunity be opened in unexpected ways.  We may feel a tug to reach out and give to others we have never met. I had such an experience this year.

At a Sunday morning worship service in Boulder, I listened to Pastor Terry’s plea to not serve pumpkin pie and Christmas cake ALONE to 300+ women at the upcoming Correctional Facility Thanksgiving and Christmas services. With some apprehension, I turned in my information for clearance, and signed up several weeks in advance to help serve.

On Thanksgiving Eve, a group of us who had signed up together to visit and help serve, gathered in the lobby, went through what seemed like airport security, and prepared to enter the prison. We walked through several gates with our New Beginnings volunteer escort who guided us into an open area between the buildings and on to the gym.

As we entered, there was a group of “offenders” nervously practicing their music for the service. Our group scattered ourselves throughout the grouping of chairs and waited for the rest of the women to arrive for worship.  Eventually, women dressed in green scrub-like uniforms wearing warm tan coats filed in, welcomed at the door by Pastor Terry. They were excited and talkative as they came in to start singing and begin the worship service.

The service lasted about an hour and then the group that I came with got up and went to the back wall to help serve pumpkin pie, cider, and bananas.  The women filed by in long lines to be served.  Their words of appreciation made a huge impact on me.  I decided to come back again for the Christmas Eve service. 

On Christmas Eve, I again came with a group from church.  Again, we hosted Fellowship time.  This time, I had a better sense of what to expect.  As I sat in the gym along with over 300 women, I was struck by how such a large crowd listened intently to Pastor Terry’s message about hope and knowing what it means to “wait”, including waiting on the Lord.  The worship service had both “hip” songs and traditional Christmas carols.  One of the women behind me really knew Holden Evening Prayer and she sang with her heart and a terrific voice. She carried our section “Unit 3C”.

Communion took a long time because 300 plus offenders formed lines to come up one unit at a time to receive. It was quiet and respectful. The experience of communion in this context made me ponder communion in a new light.

Finally, it was time for Christmas Eve dessert.  We had to cut the Christmas cakes with spatulas because no knives were allowed. The women loved the clementines and bananas.  Fresh fruit is a rare treat.  Again, many thank you’s and God bless you’s were exchanged.

I treasure the hand made thank you note given to each of us servers at the end of the evening by some of the women.

As we walked back out into the courtyard, one woman said thank you and to appreciate the family we would get to go home and see.

Again we were escorted through several secure gates. The noise of the slamming doors you hear on TV is real. Loud and definite.

It was a privilege to meet these women. Many looked 18 years old and fragile. Others were older with gray hair. Some were in wheel chairs and escorted by their friends. So many different faces with stories unknown to us.  It puts our lives and the freedom to come and go into a serious reality check.

I plan to be there as often as I can.

~Sue

 

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Glenn's Experience

The saying, "If you give someone your time, you're giving them a part of your life" The singleness of that strikes me of two recent ministry opportunities via "New Beginnings" at WCF. Both Thanksgiving Eve and then again on Christmas Eve services with the ladies.They have nothing but time to think about....how blessed was I to be part of their worship service on those evenings.AND, they thanked me for caring, coming to their services, sharing my male voice to hymns, two even remembered me from Thanksgiving to the Christmas Eve service (how kind) and the second time they went forward with meto receive  communion. Thank you dear Lord for this blessing of time in our faith journey TOGETHER.