Sunday, March 9, 2008

Invited In!

On Labor Day evening, as I was walking back from the recreation yard, I passed one of the clerks that I had met in the Chapel. He was there when I turned my application form in and he had said hello and introduced himself as David. He was an attractive young man, in his 20's. Not the image one has when you try to picture a "convict" in your mind. As we passed, he asked me if I was going to join the guys down in the recreation yard for popcorn and sodas. I started to say "no", when something in my spirit stopped me. Instead, I asked "what time?" and he said in about 15 minutes. He said that Billy was already down there and that we were meeting down on the north end by the Bocce ball courts. I thanked him for the invitation, and turned around and headed back to the "yard".

As I reflect back on that moment, I see a significance that I didn't realize at the time. I don't have a clear understanding of the reasons that I did what I did to end up in prison. I don't know why I was so hooked on going to chat rooms and looking for teenage boys to talk to. I can't begin to pretend that I comprehend what need deep in my being that those chats filled. But I have come to understand that I was definitely looking for something that was missing from my life. Relationships with other men!

I'd like to be able to say that I had never been invited into a group of men before, but that would be a lie. In fact, a big part of my life was being with other males. I had been a high school athlete and coached high school boys for twelve years. In my old church, I had been invited to join the men's group, but I always declined. I'm not sure why...I just don't think I understood the importance. But as I use my 20/20 hindsight now, I can see how deeply important it really was.

As I wandered over to the group that was collected around a blanket on the grass, Billy welcomed me and introduced me to the other men who were there. Some of these men definitely met my preconceived notion of what convicts looked like. The tattoos. The long hair. The buffed bodies crafted by hours spent working out. But others looked like men I sat next to in church, or worked next to in the schools. They could have been my next door neighbor or the sales clerk in the store at the mall. Hands were shaked and names, which I promptly forget, were exchanged. I was handed a soda and given a place to sit on the blanket with this group of men that I would learn to love over the next three years.

The conversation wasn't filled with the profanity that I was bombarded with every other place on the compound. It wasn't filled with vitriolic words for the government and the injustice of the justice system that sent us here. Instead, it was about Jesus. It seemed every conversation that I was listening to in some way centered on Jesus. Whether is was talking about the message the Chaplain had given the day before, or Bible study that the men took turns leading on Tuesday nights or laughing about the antics and errors of the men on the church softball team, it was all centered in some way on Christ. I had never been around men like this before. And strangely (I'm embarrassed to admit) I enjoyed it. It was pretentious or arrogant. It wasn't a bunch of men talking hypocritically about how good they were. It was just a group of men who were sharing in some way God's grace in their lives.

I was amazed that I had travelled 1100 miles to meet a group of men like this. But I had to smile and chuckle to myself at God's wisdom and divine planning. He knew exactly what I needed. And He knew exactly where I would find what would fill that need. I needed to feel like I belonged. I had always been a part of a group, but it seemed I was always the leader and never just a member. This was different.

As the evening grew into night time and the loudspeakers announced that the compound was closing, we picked up the blanket and our trashed and started back to our individual units. One of the men, Jeff, invited me to join him and a group of guys in the morning for a Bible study they had each day around the tables here in the yard. I had never been in a Bible study and on another day, I probably would have begged off and said I was too busy. But I could tell this was too important. Not just being in a group and studying the Bible, but being a "part" of the group, a group of men. A group where I didn't need to be in charge, but someone that had been invited in. Little did I know how significant accepting that invitation that night would be and the influence it would have over my life for the next 154 weeks.


Deb said...

Wow. I learned so much about you in this piece. It was rev

Deb said...

Sorry. The cat hit a key and saved that last comment before I was done. It was Emma -not that it matters.

As I started to say, you revealed a lot of vulnerability and a lot about how you kept yourself safe by staying separate all these years. The irony that you had to go to prison to belong to a group of like-minded men is huge.

How is group going? You've been off the radar for a bit and I'm hoping all is well. I love you tons.