The final piece of my conversation with an Ex-con named Don.
The last thing that changed Don’s life was horses. He said he was blessed to get a job outside of the fence, and spent several years trimming horse hooves and nailing on their shoes. Most of them came with injuries, and were placed in the sanctuary where Don worked. They began to become a part of Don’s healing as much as he labored to care of them. To this day he still has a driving passion for working with horses, and is looking for an opportunity around Colorado Springs.
As lunch came to an end, I asked Don a simple question:
“Don, the organization I work for spends a lot of time with students ages 13-25 who grew up in a Christian home, go to a Christian school, and attend a Christian church. What would you like to say to those kids who in some ways think you don’t deserve attention in prison? In fact, some of them come from backgrounds where prisoners are not only untouchable but deserve to be untouchable. What would you like to tell them about what prison is like?”
“First of all, I was just like you. I also grew up in a good Christian family, school, and church. But that’s a side note.
In some ways I liked prison. I made friends, lifted weights, and worked with horses. But unless you have been there, you can’t understand what it’s like to be removed from love. Sure, maybe we deserve it for a little while, and maybe it’s a good thing. But what really made the difference in my life in the end were the people that came and visited us with no hidden agenda, people that cared about me…”
“What does that look like? What do you mean a hidden agenda?” I interrupted.
“A lot of people come to feel better about themselves or see what it’s like, and the inmates pick up on that quickly. Their not going to talk to you if you’re only there for you. What really made the difference were the people that came in because they genuinely cared about us. It revolutionizes our lives. This was really clear with pastors.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“There were several pastors that came in and told us all that we were going to hell — a lot of us already knew that. The only reason they were there was to get converts for their church, or check off ‘prison ministry’ on their spiritual checklist. They didn’t care about us, and we knew it. We would ignore them. But then there were the guys that came in and we knew that they were here for us. Those were the guys we listened to, and those were the ones that actually helped us see the love of Christ.”
“Anything else you want to say to a bunch of Christian kids like myself?”
“Yes, we have all broken laws — some of us just get caught. Most prisons aren’t like the ones you see on TV or movies where there are a bunch of guys that are evil to the core. Sure, there are definitely those guys, but they are usually like that because they don’t have any hope. They are in prison for their entire lives so what’s the big deal about stabbing a fellow inmate? But those guys are also in maximum security prisons, and that doesn’t reflect the majority of us.
The majority of prisoners are guys like me that did bad things — just like all of the kids you talk to — and yet they got caught. There are so many people doing drugs that don’t get caught — I bet even some of the students you speak to do drugs. Don’t isolate prisoners because a police officer happened to find them at the wrong time, love on them — and you could change their life and lead them to Christ.”
The last point that Don made is what really stuck with me. “We have all broken laws…” I know that what he is saying is true, but it doesn’t sound true. He was a drug addict, and I’m a good guy with a good family and a good job. I don’t steal, do drugs, or get wasted — I read the Bible, pray, and listen to wholesome music. Sure, I might speed a little bit, but that’s nothing compared to someone that kills a guy.
According to Jesus, however, I’m a pretty rotten guy. In fact, Jesus says that I Daniel, am a murderer and someone who cheats on his wife:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (link to verse)
Do you think a guy that kills people and cheats on his family deserves punishment? Than I guess that’s me, I should be in prison with Don.
Does that mean that he didn’t deserve prison? NO! Does that mean that no one deserves prison and we should all walk around breaking the law without consequences? NO! But it means that we need to be constantly full of compassion and love because in many ways Don and I are the same in the fact that we are sinners in need of a Savior.
I drove Don home after lunch, and I couldn’t help but think of the way I often look at prisoners — as guys with mean faces and a gun in their back pocket. In the 2-mile drive home from the restaurant to his house, I kept thinking about how much I actually lack compassion in my life. I have an entire list of untouchables — people that don’t deserve my time or my love. Last week, Don would have been on that list, but after an hour and a half with him my entire perception of prisoners was changing. Instead of seeing people that deserve wrath, I saw people that needed grace. Instead of seeing evil men, I saw fallen men. Instead of seeing an enemy, Don was a friend.
The biggest thing that I want to challenge you with is to go to a prison at least one time. Do it! Partner with an organization that ministers to prisoners, and go see what God will teach you as a result. This Saturday I am going into a local prison with Prison Fellowship Ministries and I can’t wait. I’m nervous too, but I’m also excited about what God is going to do in my heart to teach me to love the people that he loves. Remember the Matthew 25 verse that I shared the other day where Jesus says that the people that make it in to Heaven visit prisoners? (no this is not works salvation) We need to obey his command, and if we do I bet we will find that our own lives are changed in a really cool way. Just like my heart began to change after lunch with an Ex-con.
Are you like me, do you struggle with seeing prisoners as people that need God as much as we do? You may comment below…