Orange Is Not Her Color
I recently spent the night in jail.
The door in front of us unlocked as we approached. We were passed through a metal detector, briefed, and sent to booking where we were patted down and surrendered our keys.
The institutional white coated the hallway that stretched half a mile. Immaculate distance. It was cold inside.
We walked past, on and on. Past solid doors with small, square windows.
At the last solid door, we awaited entrance. We heard it click and pulled its heaviness open to reveal another locked door six feet inside. Again, we waited. It clicked and we pulled again to enter the women’s pod. The inmates knew one of the ladies in my group, so they quickly emerged from their cells, joining us in the common room.
“Do you remember me?” one girl asked in my direction.
“I don’t. Remind me where we know each other from.”
“NewSpring,” she answered. And right in that moment I learned that small talk fails in jail.
“Good to see you again.” No.
“What you been up to?” Nope.
“We’re sure having crazy weather.” Not so much.
“How’s your mama and ’em?” Just no, no, no.
“Well……if you can’t come to church…..we’ll bring church to you,” I finally pulled myself together enough to spit out. Lame and awkward, Cookie, lame and awkward.
Nineteen ladies in orange jumpsuits and orange slides; some with socked feet, others bare. They filled in chairs at the small round tables, chatting with their friends, smiling, and looking our way.
Their eyes surprised me most. They were soft. Not at all what I expected. They were kind. They were young. Very young. Most in their early twenties.
Their eyes teared easily. So did mine.
As an observer, I followed the lead of my experienced companions. Kim, the primary speaker for the evening, invited the ladies into the course of life that led her to Jesus; she challenged and encouraged them, not skirting the reality that these ladies had made destructive choices; these ladies were incarcerated. I valued that honesty – as did the women.
Let’s not all pretend we’re attending a prayer meeting in the church social hall. Okay? Thanks.
As I listened, I buzzed inside, the likes of an internal electric fence. I wanted the chance to speak. Kim’s boldness fed my own. My soul fidgeted with animation, as I prayed and heard Scripture echo off the pod walls.
This may be one of my favorite places.
When Rita asked if I wanted to speak, I sprang out of my seat like an amped up kangaroo and dove in. We talked about a Jesus who dared dignify a despised and hopeless woman. The Jesus who refused to allow her to slink away unnoticed. That same Jesus who frees from suffering and authors freedom.
Just as we were concluding, another member of the ministry team arrived through the slamming door with his guitar and flute.
We worshiped in that place.
And I thought to myself, “This beauty is not lost on me.”
We offered to pray with the ladies, and to my knowledge, they all responded for prayer….and some even more than once.
I held their hands. I peered into their faces. I said their names and fought for them before the God of the universe.
And it was powerful.
As I have worn that night on my heart since then (I get to go back Sunday!), I wonder if some of them ever had a chance. Do they even now?
I found myself not wanting them to be released….back to the call of pimps and pushers and violence and needles and all manner of destructive escapism.
Not all walls are bad. They can be protective.
Not all prisons are government-run.
As a little girl, did she ever have a chance?
Who fought for her?
Who told her she was lovely?
Who put aside their own jacked-up self absorption for her?
Not even me.
This is when I want to shake middle-class Christian – myself so included – accessorizing our church fashion with Starbucks and yell…
Fight for somebody!
Help somebody without a chance!
Put aside your self-indulgence and stand for what’s good in the world!
That’s the full life He means.
Not the spiritual obesity of comfort and luxury.
The guard called me over to the control station and said, “Central just sent me a message and they’re all waiting for you guys in the front.” We thanked her for allowing us to stay longer – though we had no idea we had been at it for two hours. No clocks or watches. We were on guard time.
After collecting our keys and rejoining the team, we held hands and celebrated all that the God of the universe had decided to do that night behind slamming doors.
Who knows how many different churches and denominations were represented in that circle of fifteen. More importantly, who cared? All of the trappings of man were irrelevant.
There was only one. Who loves prisoners and despised, hopeless women, and little girls who never had a chance.[Feature Image: angus mcdiarmid]