"... I was in prison, and ye came unto me" (Matthew 25.36, KJV)
In an early episode of TV's Law and Order A.D.A. Ben Stone tells a jury, "In 6,000 years of human history prison has never accomplished anything, but it is all we have."
A few days ago, Kay and I went to visit my "pen" pal at Putnamville Correctional Facility. It was, if nothing else, interesting. The good news is that my continuous streak remains intact as to being allowed to leave a jail when ready to go.
The staff seemed almost anxious to make visitors feel welcome, appreciated, and comfortable. Rules, on the other hand, have reasons; and the procedures for getting through the reception area to the visitor building were graciously aided by those having taken that path before.
At the original request of the Celebrate Recovery ministry, I have been corresponding since August 2009 with the young man we went to see. We had never actually met in person, and Kay and I came away impressed that he seems such a gentle spirit. I would take it that the man we met is not the same man sentenced to 15 years for self-admitted crimes against man and property. The apparent change in him being a life-changing experience with Jesus Christ. Celebrate Recovery had a hand in this I am sure.
This young man is not the first such person we've come across about whom it was said, "You should have know him/her before..." As I recall my theology classes, it is considered one of the "evidences" of the truth-claim of Christianity that such remarkable transformations occur when one encounters a living Jesus. Those of us reared in the church, never straying too very far off, miss something in not knowing such a first-hand reversal in life. I would not have wanted to walk that path, but do harbor a certain envy God allows that chance.
I told him again what I had previously written, he is exactly where God wants him for now; and there is no safer place on earth to be than to be where He wants you to be.
It is a fascinating paradox that those whom God would prepare He will first separate from the Body of Christians. The apostle Paul reports being sent away into Arabia; apparently for a few it must be prison. It's disappointing somehow he is really being better prepared there than in some of the finest church buildings in America.
For now he is securely in the Lord's hand, protected and allowed to mature. Still ahead will be time for the proof, for the necessary test that will certify to the world his conversion.
Our young "son in the faith" is enrolled in the PLUS (Purposeful Living Units Serve) program, a faith-based program combining educational opportunity and guidance in spiritual maturity. He has a long way to go, but his natural abilities and commitment to growth have sparked the beginnings of leadership. For the record, the facility is always looking for volunteers willing to teach specific classes and speak to the participants.
Perhaps the provisions offered by Christ's obedient sheep ("... I was in prison, and ye came unto me") will yet prove old Ben Stone wrong.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.