10 Days Without Human Touch Follow-up

The other day I mentioned that I would be visiting a prison, and hanging out with some inmates. I had that amazing privilege this past Saturday, and I want to share with you some of the stories from when I went behind bars for the first time.

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I have a problem. It’s definitely a disorder, although I haven’t had it diagnosed yet. I’ve named it “not-able-to-sleep-because-I-have-to-wake-up-early-the-next-day-anxiety-disorder” also know as NATSBIHTWUEAD (pronounced NAHTS-BIT-WEAD, the H and U is silent). Basically, it means that if I have to wake up early the next day because of an appointment, flight, or other obligation, I won’t be able to sleep very well the night before.

Last night I didn’t sleep well because I knew I had to wake up early and go to a prison today. My alarm was set for 5:30, but it didn’t have a chance to go off. I’m already awake and I turn it off before I get out of bed. After a quick shower, I get in my car and head over to Karon’s house — the lady who would be taking me in to meet with the inmates.

I arrive at her house at 6:30 a.m. sharp, and although I missed breakfast I feel good knowing I’m on time. As I walk to her front door I notice a “For Sale” sign in the back window of her car, as well as a “For Sale” sign in her yard. I pick up the flyer attached to the sign to see how much the house costs, and although it’s reasonably priced I know it will be a while before my wife and I can afford something this nice. I guess one of the great American freedoms of owning a house is still just a little out of our reach.

As we begin the hour-long journey to the prison, I’m becoming more and more talkative. When I get nervous I talk, and the closer we get to the prison the more my mouth keeps blabbing. 30 minutes into the drive we stop at a grocery store and pick up Jeff and Robert who were both regular volunteers with Prison Fellowship. We all ride together in Karon’s car, and for the first time this morning I’m quiet as I listen intently to their conversation. They’re talking specifically about the guy who walked into an Aurora Colorado movie theatre and killed 12 people. The theatre is only an hour away from where we all live, and even though the news was a week old it was still the main topic of conversation. I’m not really sure what I think about what they’re saying:

“I can’t believe James Holmes walked into that theatre and killed 12 people,” says Jeff.

“I know,” Bob responds, “something’s obviously wrong with that guy.”

Karon, who is also driving, looks in the rearview mirror to add to the conversation. “I about had a heart attack when I found out there was a shooting. My grandson was all excited that he got tickets to go to the movie, but I didn’t know when he was going. As soon as my husband told me the news I called his mom and was relieved to hear that he was supposed to go on Friday instead of Thursday night. They live in Denver, and I was hoping that he hadn’t driven to that side of town for the movie that night.”

Jeff and Bob both nod as their minds replay the different news features they had read or watched over the past several days. I was blown away at what I heard next.

Jeff pipes in first, “It’s so sad to think about James Holmes and how messed up he must be. Obviously it’s horrible what he did to ravage those families, and he definitely deserves a strong prison sentence — but he needs help.”

Karon jumps back in, “we actually just received a letter from a pastor in Minnesota that was 7 pages long. He asked us to make sure James Holmes got it. Each page was full of the classic “turn or burn” message.”

Bob responds, “that’s not going to do anything for James Holmes. He needs to be broken first. He needs to understand what he really did. Then we can help him.”

I finally break-in, “what do you mean when you say that ‘he needs to be broken first’?”

“It’s the punishment of prison,” Karon explains. “The punishment of prison is that it removes you from love and real relationships with people. The longer a prisoner is in that situation the more broken they can become, and the more broken they become the more open they are to true hope. Understanding who Jesus really is and what he did only happens when people realize how absolutely broken and hopeless they are without him. When a prisoner understands that…”

Jeff interrupts, “James Holmes needs to come to the end of himself before he can ever truly embrace his need for Jesus. With all of the prisoners we’ve worked with, it’s only the one’s that truly realize their brokenness that become a candidate for change. The truth is that Jesus loves James Holmes as much as he loves you Daniel.”

I don’t respond to Jeff’s comments. In my mind I think “ya right, Jeff! Jesus loves me a lot more than James Holmes. James Holmes is an evil guy — I’m not! I’ve never killed anyone. I’ve never even thought about killing anyone! How dare you compare me to James Holmes!”

Jeff and Bob continue talking while I sit quietly looking straight out of the front window. As the rolling foothills of Colorado continue to ripple out in front of us, my mind is now set on the prison that is only a few miles away. Like an olympic swimmer on the block, I concentrate and play out different scenarios in my mind. Some of those scenarios include an inmate stabbing me with my own sunglasses or losing my ID and getting stuck behind bars indefinitely. Most of the scenarios are negative, and my fear grows with each passing mile.

As my mind walks around the prison I’m imagining in my head, my eyes notice a chain link fence on the horizon. The closer we get to the complex the more my decision to come into a prison seems daunting and stupid. Off to the left a huge gray concrete building with small slit-windows rises out from behind a hill. As we pull up to the gate under the shadow of this monstrous cavern which is surrounded by razor sharp barbed-wire, my fear begins affecting my body. My hands begin shaking as I pull out my driver’s license for the guard, and my heart begins beating out of my chest as if I’ve just finished eight cups of highly caffeinated coffee.

The guard is a lot nicer than I expect him to be. I was imagining one of the beefy guys with a bad attitude that I had seen on Prison Break, but this guy is normal and even tells a joke. Although his humor makes me smile, it’s a nervous smile. Instead of focusing on the joke, my eyes stare at the multi-story concrete tomb to my left.

To read part 2 click here

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