This I Believe

Jim - Chesapeake, Virginia
Entered on December 14, 2006

We lead busy lives at Christmas. But some things I do in my busy agenda during the holiday season are, …well,… not a bit out of the ordinary.

You see each Wednesday night, I meet with a few friends of mine. For us though, Wednesdays these days have become a time when we don’t just talk about life, but we map out a plan for how we’re going to deal with the pain that this Christmas will bring.

All 4 people at my table, have felt a pain that others just don’t get to feel at Christmas. And they’ve felt this every year for about the past 3 or 4 years.

They talk about their regretful past. They talk about their individual empty pursuits as they pass the hours away on Christmas day.

Sounds dismal huh?

That’s because the four people aren’t sitting at your ordinary table. The four people are part of my prison ministry group at Indian Creek Correctional Center – a prison in Virginia.

For the past nine years I have sat across from some of the world’s most depressing stories, and this past evening was no exception.

I heard from my 19 year old friend tell me about his incarceration for 3 years and 11 months – yes, he’s been locked up since he was 15 years old. He’ll be released on December 26th – only because they don’t release prisoners on a holiday weekend and there will be no staff there to process his release any earlier than the day after Christmas.

I listen to another inmate tell me about his plan to go to the woods when he’s released and trap animals for food, live in a makeshift hut, hopefully get a job and save some money, for he has no family around to go to. In 18 months, he’ll be released after nearly 13 years in prison.

I listen to another inmate tell me about his cell mate – a former member of MS-13 – a latino gang that Newsweek called one of the most dangerous gangs in America. How he recalls his cell mate’s description of brutal and vicious murders committed in revenge for a drug deal gone bad.

I listen to another tell me about the hush hush incidents of prison rape at his previous facility and the desperate look of the meek young inmate kid who became someone’s sex slave in a maximum security prison .

In spite of it all, I believe that the beauty of the human soul can be found deep in the hearts and minds of these folks.

While many believe that great people are worth emulating, I believe there is a boundless wealth, knowledge and ingenuity to be found in picking from the minds of these who have hit rock bottom; these renegades of our justice system who took a very wrong turn , and look up to you to help get their sorry lives back on track.

I believe that human dignity applies to all – the good, the bad, the abhorrent.

I believe the spirit God is ever-present in the least of these – my brethren – the ones we are taught to fear; the ones dreading the hours ticking by in their pursuit to make it through Christmas day.

I believe that behind that state-issued blue denim; behind all those wacky demonic tattoos; behind those crew cut heads and burgundy jumpsuits – there is a soul; a soul just like yours and mine; a soul hungry to come and know God, and be… SOMEBODY.

THIS I BELIEVE.