I met a woman named Kathy today. She’s an inmate at the Muscogee County Jail, one of the sites we serve as chaplains. When Kathy stays on her medication, as she’s pledged to do, you probably couldn’t single her out among those of us in the “free” world. But when she’s off the medicine, she sees things that aren’t there and does things she’s probably not aware of. Hence the incarceration.
Ministering to people in jail doesn’t come naturally to me, at least compared to seeing people at the main hospital and at The Bradley Center, the psychiatric facility. Jail ministry seems in a separate category, way beyond my capacity. I’m pretty nervous before I go in. I suppose it’s because I have never been incarcerated, nor plan to be; and I feel a greater distance between ME and THEM.
It’s drab and dreary and most of the sounds are clanging metal.
Most of the time I find myself praying my favorite Anne Lamott prayer: Help me, help me, help me; and thank you, thank you, thank you.
And yet, there’s this: I have found ways to connect that don’t have much to do with the location we’re in. We’re all human; we hurt, we cry, we laugh. We’re women. We have relationship problems.
I found out today from Kathy that she has, like I have, a strong family support system and they’re cheering for her from outside. Her daughter writes her letters. For one hour, we talked about Joseph from the book of Genesis–a man whose brothers sold him into slavery. He, too, was incarcerated and yet God blessed him during that time.
As I see it, on the one hand you don’t want to blow smoke up these women’s skirts: “You must be so blessed to find God here!”, because they know I wouldn’t trade places with them for a million bucks.
But on the other hand you don’t want to leave them feeling hopeless. My faith tradition teaches that people on the margins, to include the sick and those in prison, are of paramount importance to God. So it’s important to go.
Kathy herself taught me a lesson today: It’s tough being here, she said, but I’m hoping to get out soon, and I’m making the most of my time while I’m here.
Go, girl. And Godspeed.