Matthew 25:36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
This is a follow up to the Off to prison (ministry) post. The Kairos prison ministry weekend went really well as did the follow up session the next Saturday. We were at the Carol Vance unit in Sugarland, Texas, a medium security unit (though it seemed more like medium-light to me).
I am looking forward to the monthly follow-ups. We’ll go see the prisoners for a couple hours one Saturday morning per month. If we just met them once on the Kairos weekend that would have been good, but it is more meaningful if we can visit them repeatedly. I’ll probably do one of the weekend events each year from now on.
There are so many things to like about this ministry. It is an opportunity to share the Gospel with those who aren’t believers (No one is pressured, though. One guy at my table was a Muslim but he really soaked it all in and was very appreciative). [2009 update: The Muslim gentleman ended up converting to Christianity!] Many of the participants are already Christians, so it is a great opportunity to fellowship with and encourage them. And it is just an all-around way to share God’s love with people who are often depressed and forgotten. It is educational in laying out Christian principles for living. It helps teach them how to love and forgive others (and themselves).
But even without all that, the proven reduction in recidivism would make the preparation, the weekend and the follow up worthwhile. Based on statistics from larger sample sizes, 33 of the 42 participants would have returned to jail within 5 years if they hadn’t gone through this program. Going through the weekend program cuts that down to 15, and it goes down to 5 if they all participate in the follow up program.
So roughly speaking, that will be 18-28 less people returning to prison once they are released. That’s a tremendous cost savings, but more importantly it means a lot less victims and a lot less pain and heartache for the prisoners and their loved ones.
Kairos doesn’t advocate for either the prisoners or for the criminal justice system. A transaction took place between the state and the prisoner. The prisoners did the crime and are now doing the time, so we don’t get in the middle of that. We just reach out with Christian love to all and with Christian fellowship to believers. We try to show that they aren’t forgotten.
There is also a Kairos Outside program for the moms / wives / girlfriends of the prisoners. It is completely free, including transportation to the event and childcare if necessary.
Random highlights and observations
I never get tired of watching lives transformed by Christ.
All of the presenters prayed with an inmate who had already gone through the Kairos program. Before my talk I got to pray with a man who was 14 yrs. into a 17 yr. sentence. We had lots of talks at the tables, but I appreciated the one-on-one discussions the most.
Lots of time was spent educating them on how to conduct their own “Prayer and Share” accountability groups. These are vital to keep them supporting one another and growing in their faith.
Several of the outside volunteers were was inmates themselves. Their presence and message lets the inmates know that change is possible.
Watching otherwise reticent prisoners really light up during the songs. I was playing guitar so I got to see their reactions.
You could really see the pain and regret in eyes of many of them. They are haunted by not being there for their families.
There are a lot of good programs available for them to improve their chances of success when released – mentoring, Bible studies, Toastmasters, and more.
We make it a point not to ask why they are there or how long until they will get out (if ever), but they sometimes offer it up during discussions. Most of the infractions were from violence and/or drugs.
Each prisoner got a bag of hand-written letters from everyone on the team plus others. Some prisoners got more mail in one sitting than they had received their whole lives. We left the room when they got the letters. The leader said the reactions were strong – ranging from stunned to weeping to being like kids at Christmas. It made writing the 42 personalized letters worthwhile. One older gentleman was still talking about the letters the next Saturday. He was going to keep them forever and re-read them.
There was a rather large former gang member who, in his words, laid down his flag and accepted Christ over the weekend. He got choked up at the closing ceremony and was joined by one brother, then two, then three, then about fifteen surrounding him and supporting him. Then he came over to his ~80 yr. old table leader who was standing in front of me. The former gang member gave him a big hug and affectionately said, “Hey Old School.”
Some guys commented on how they not only felt the love but learned how to love and how to forgive. During testimonials and discussions we learned that many didn’t have dads or had dads who were unloving and lousy role models. The other prisoners were their family.
One of the key exercises involved “forgiveness cookies.” Volunteers make many thousands of homemade cookies for the weekend. There is a continuous pile at each table, and the prisoners get a bag every night to take back with them. On Saturday night they are given an extra bag and told to give them to the person they need to forgive the most. The next morning we heard many touching stories of what people did with the cookies.
Many participants were already Christians and knew the Bible better than we did.
Other than our presentations, we didn’t have to say much. We mainly got them talking. The theme for the team is listen-listen-love-love.
Most of the serving (food and otherwise) was done by prisoners who had already participated in a Kairos weekend. I was impressed with their servants’ hearts and how much they cared for their fellow prisoners.
Most things in prisons are viewed from the perspective of “inside” or “outside” the prison walls. But as I pointed out to several prisoners, God looks at the world as those who are inside his kingdom vs. those who are outside. From an eternal persepctive there are just people with forgiveness of sins and eternal life and people without them.
Doing something new typically takes you outside your comfort zone. Being in the prison wasn’t that stressful for me, though. What was more challenging was just meeting and interacting with dozens of new people from morning until evening (I’m somewhat of an introvert, so I find that exhausting).
It was a joy to serve with friends from church and to make some new friends from other churches. My good friend Steve did a fantastic job leading the weekend. We were thoroughly prepared and everything went smoothly.
As Steve would say, “It’s official: I have now hugged more men in my life than women.”
Carol Vance Prison visitation tip: Don’t wear all white unless you want to stay permanently.
If you have any interest in this or other prison ministry programs, I encourage you to check them out. They may not be for everyone, but you won’t know for sure until you try. There are roles inside and outside the prison. God is doing great things through this powerful ministry.