Well, it was bound to happen eventually. Though I had not intended to go back, I found myself within the confines of the jail bars of the Woodman Unit in Gatesville, Texas. The guard's large, gold keys hung from their over-sized grey pants. Behind me were twenty-foot metal fences, topped with spirals of barbed wire. A line of women in white jump suits walked two by two, staring me down from a few yards up. There were two gates to walk through. One for my belongings, the other for my vulnerable pat down and the infamous wand over every inch of my body. The guards did not smile. There were no, "Hellos" only, "NEXT!" for the girl behind me to come up for her opportunity to be searched.
This was, in fact, not my first time to go to prison, nor do I plan for it to be my last.
See, there is something special about prison ministry. It's not only one particular feeling or emotion. To be honest, it's not even about their stories of drug addiction, theft, or murder.
It's about the fatherless, the brokenhearted, and the needy. More importantly, it's about the FREEDOM that comes with the spread of Good News of Salvation, as well as providing help in a time of trouble.
In Isaiah 61:1-3 it says,
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
As you can see, I have a responsibility ... and I don't take responsibility lightly.
I had the honor to take eight other women from our church (2 veterans, 7 NEW!!) to the Woodman Unit this past Saturday.
At 4 a.m. we arrived at Our Fellowship Christian Church where Pastor Howard cooked a delightful breakfast. We're talking scrambled eggs, turkey sausage, buttery toast, and piping hot potatoes (or "home fries" as he calls them).
We all jumped into the van and departed to Gatesville at 4:45 a.m. This would be a three and a half our drive and within minutes, some ladies dozed off into sleep while others beamed with excitement. I knew this feeling all too well. The butterflies whirl around because you have absolutely no idea what to expect. Feelings of doubt and spontaneity come rushing in, and at the same time your heart won't stop thumping. It's exhilarating!
The clock rolled around to 9 a.m. sooner rather than later and ladies began to squirm, nerves were involuntarily making their hands shake and their words stammer. Stomachs began to ache and headaches suddenly came on but because of compassion and grace, encouragement flowed out of my mouth ...
"There is going to be ONE girl. Everyone has that one girl. All the mess and the junk you have gone through all your life, all the trouble you have been in and the grieving you have endured, it's going to come full circle. Today a woman will stand before you and she is going to have your exact same story, word for word. And in that moment, the Holy Spirit is going to pour out of your mouth because today you will realize it wasn't for nothing. It was for her."
It was time.
We prayed corporately, our identifications were taking into custody and the day of redemption officially began. In total there were eighty women, all dedicating our entire Saturday to encourage over 900 woman at this particular unit.
No real expectations were had, I knew whatever these ladies had in mind for the day, was not what was going to take place. I especially knew the one woman who stayed on my coat tails over the last two months would be the first one out of the gates.
And she was.
All nine of us went from pod to pod, singing praises, giving words of encouragement to inmates, praying for redemption, healing and anticipating a touch from God. Every single woman who had doubts and insecurity on the way up to Gatesville prayed their little hearts out. The women from the van six hours ago were no longer the women who stood beside me. Boldness reigned over the girls, compassion flowed from their lips and seeds were planted into everyone they spoke to.
Of course, the enemy tried to manifest on numerous occasions but the gals laid hands on three different women and they were all healed instantly. The funny thing is that these were counselors, not even inmates! You see, the enemy had no place here and it certainly was not allowed to attack my girls.
WE WERE ON FIRE.
Hugs were given to a multitude of inmates over a period of five hours. We loved on the women just as we were instructed to do over 2,000 years ago. Every time we left a pod, inmates rose their hands and begged for us to stay just a while longer. We dried their tears of joy and wiped away the pain. But, our time there was running out. We had about thirty-five minutes left when we entered the last pod.
Then there was this one girl named Missy ...
Join me next week for the remainder of the story in Finding Freedom Part 2.