by Johnny Allen
The two hardest days of incarceration – the first day and the last.
The first day you enter the razor wire with a lot of unknowns. What will happen to me? Why am I here? And then the days following… life goes on – it doesn’t stop for the time behind the razor wire. Loved ones may pass on, children, grandchildren may get married, there are illnesses, graduations, family needs…and because of the consequences you can’t be there. In reality I could barely be there if I was there because of the wretched life I was living. But each day of incarceration had you anxiously waiting to call a family member (if you could even get a phone or have money for a call) just to find out what was going on in the lives of those we said we loved.
The second hardest day is the day you leave the razor wire. Again, the unknowns. This may be actually a harder day because unlike when I entered, numbed by drugs, lack or rest, lack of nourishment and a mind that was all fogged up; I am now leaving a man well rested, better nourished and a clear mind (usually) and the unknown days ahead bring on anxiety and a lot of questions. Am I going to be reestablished in the community? Will my family accept me back? Jobs, finances, parole issues, facing old friends, victims, needing an automobile, a home; all these thoughts and questions invade your mind.
Sometimes reentry is so overwhelming that relief is sought and the relief that we seek isn’t always what we want but we are desperate for a solution to be found. Good solutions are hard to come by and before long we are right back where we started, doing the same things that seem the easiest and that usually spells DOOM and the revolving door effect.
Not very many men and women leave prison with family, marriages intact, committed members and a welcoming church community. Far more former inmates find themselves adrift, having burned all bridges (self-inflicted), suffering in some ways the cruelest stage of this uniquely America drama of incarceration, where you feel like you can’t breathe, like you’re in a box with no where to go. The hardest part – moving past the depression brought on by strained family relationships and usually a missing relationship with God. You look around and the people who would welcome you back are broken people. And broken people can’t serve or help broken people.
That’s why Jesus is the only answer and the church so important. 300,000+ churches meant to welcome, build and sustain relationships. And believe me there aren’t many groups that need relational support more than people being released from jails or prisons.
I probably would have never had a concern about the physical, emotional, and spiritual condition of people in prison and those leaving prison had I not gone to prison and left there myself. Prison is like a radical “Time Out” – a time to think, a time to reflect, a time to ask oneself “what is it that I want?” This is where prison ministry becomes important – where the cross meets the prisoner. The chapel – where men and women come for support; a place where judgment takes a seat, a place where sin becomes known to a person. And behind that sinful man – behind those criminal convictions – are men and women in need of a Savior…in need of that love of Christ, of His mercy and His grace. And when they find Jesus, they find a way to stop the revolving door.