TITLE: Thanks For Coming Behind the Walls
By Princess Carroll Ayo Durodola
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It started in the Colorado hotel elevator where a slightly tipsy white man trying to help me get to the lobby, asked what group I was with.
“I’m with a group called Operation Starting Line or OSL and we go into prisons and tell people about the love of God which He shows us through His Son, Jesus Christ.”
“I know all about that”
“Oh really” I said incredulously as he tried to stand straight.
“I am at the lowest time in my life right now but when I was 10 years old I gave my life to Christ too,”
Mmm, I didn’t expect that.
“Right now I’m on my way to do something really stupid” he went on, “it’s just like God to put a Christian woman in my path, so I could think again.”
“Would you like me to pray for you?” I enquired
“I sure would appreciate it” he said.
So we prayed together outside what I found out later was the OSL prayer room. My week rolled on from there. It only took a few hours for me to see that God had a lot more in store for me than I thought. The whole week of prison visiting and evangelizing surrendered more and more to the Master until I was truly on my knees.
In the Ft. Lyons Facility I was struck by the openness of the men which I thought had something to do with the openness of the campus that housed this prison. A campus that wasn’t built to be a prison. We went to visit the medical facility. I never thought of really sick people in prison. These men looked just like my 80-year-old parents and their friends residing at an elite Reston, Virginia senior citizen apartment. All of the inmates were glad to see us and over and over again we heard, “Thank you so much for coming out here!”
In the Trinidad Facility we thought we would do two shows but we only did one since none of the men were in SEG (segregated pods or cells for bad behavior). Instead those that had misbehaved were forced to wear bright orange trousers versus the green of the other men and allowed to come to the event.
The men weren’t shy about coming right up close to us on the basketball court that doubled as our stage, and shaking our hands one by one thanking us for coming. A Latino man who danced his Spanish steps as long as DQ, the singer from San Juan, was singing was unforgettable. Sitting behind him it dawned on me that the joy in the man’s movements, reflected the joy possible behind the walls. It was there after the show that a young man, Adrian, let’s call him, asked me to pray for him and his wife, Sandra, not her real name, who was about to lose their house and to pray for her daughter who was incarcerated and about to give birth. It was there also that a young black man lay on the concrete basketball court, propped up on one arm and raising the other, a holy hand to heaven, tears streaming down his face as he praised God along with Ms. Mary Smith who was singing “His Eye Is on the Sparrow and I Know He Watches Me”.
At the Kit Carson Facility in Burlington, Colorado, we ate with the men. That was daunting because we sat in the midst of the prisoners (Christian and non-), no protection around us, nowhere to run if anything should occur. I knew the guards were around, but I was scared to even be hurt in a scuffle. I thought if I went in more often I would lose my fear, but, a veteran prison visitor, Stephanie Miller, sat with me and said she was not afraid but she was aware of danger and possibilities of problems. She assured me that my feelings were expected and right.
As the OSL event took place in the yard, the SWOT team with guns pointed, watched over us all. But again there was joy, joy, joy and even some hair braiding going on along the side – by a young inmate whose artistic ability could be seen in the hairdos of several men in the yard. Earlier we had gone to the segregated population, who either could not behave in the general population or were not safe there. Here, I got to see the real animalistic way prisoners are kept. They were behind a thick iron door with windows, above and below, with thick bars and Plexiglas covering them. We went cell to cell. It wasn’t as scary as I thought. Some wanted to hear and others didn’t but I can’t forget the wild-looking, loud, hairy man, like someone out of a cave man movie, who seeing two women near him, with a gravelly voice leeringly yelled “What do you have there?” making me momentarily forget that it must be time to show the pamphlets in our hands, though I doubt that’s what he meant.
Could it be that the Huerfano Facility in Walsenburg, Colorado, was the highlight of my week? I dare to even choose, since each day and each prison was a highlight. We were sent to be volunteers for a program called “1 Day with God” of Forgiveness Ministries. It’s an all-day Saturday play day for children of prisoners to spend with their dads. It was like reuniting soldiers coming back from war with their children.
The children then have an exclusive time with their dad. Scottie Barnes, the organizer, had about 130 of us volunteers out in the bright Colorado sun. I hadn’t been paired up, so she made me a floater. Inside the prison’s gym, after the drama of the initial meetings, there were fathers who had expected their kids and the kids had not appeared. I saw one disappointed father and I made a beeline for him. I attached myself to Angelo for the rest of the day. He was my son’s age – 25. He had expected his two little ones, a boy and girl, but their caretaker had refused to let them come and see him. He held up all day, till the end, even though his spirit slumped at times. Along with the couple who would have been in charge of his two children, I stayed with him, helped him make lamps for them, write them notes and shared fellowship.
Anthony not being able to use this wonderful opportunity to enjoy his kids was so sad. He was denied giving them his full and undivided attention. He had 4 more months in jail. He won’t be able to do that when he comes out into this crazy world. But I didn’t cry; I was too intent on giving him a good day. This amazing forgiveness ministry should be financially supported as I see it as the crux of the matter. It is an incentive for people to get out of prison and stay out, as they see how their incarceration is affecting their children.
The day ended with the children and fathers tearfully filing out of the gym. Clutching each others hands tightly, they came out on to the grassy, fenced in space outside. Suddenly, out of the gym door, came a handful of volunteers with huge bundles of colorful balloons on ribbons. Each child was given one and each father and then as Scottie asked the teary-eyed father’s if they had had a wonderful day with their children and they answered “Yes”, she asked them to release their balloons. The sky burst with colors as the balloons were released. Then she asked the crying children if they enjoyed the day with their Dads and if they did, to release their balloons. Balloons were reluctantly let go, as the little ones and several teenagers, realized that the end had come and they would really have to go. One little 5 year old girl called Miracle said she would never let hers go, or she would be too sad.
If we, as lovers of God and followers of Jesus Christ, keep up this good work, and if we do not get tired in doing good, at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up and God will be able to do His work and release these people from prison and the cycle of sin. Out will come fabulous fathers, mothers, men and women of God in the thousands who will join us in changing the worldview.
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