Month: September 2019


This past week of jail ministry has had extremes as far as highs and lows.

Another volunteer I know passed away quite suddenly. He had been involved in jail ministry for over 50 years. In that time, I am sure he has touched the lives of hundreds of men.


The Tuesday night group that I’ve been covering has been very encouraging. Attendance has been strong and consistent.

With the change in laws more people are serving their time at a county jail rather than being sent to prison. One of the differences I’ve noted between prison and jail is that prisons tend to have a stable, mature church where the men are active participants. For example, at San Quentin there are 26 men on their preaching team – all inmates. And they hold each other to high standards in terms of teaching and their overall lifestyle.

I’ve been encouraging the men on Tuesday night to become the church behind the walls. They have eagerly stepped up to this calling and I’ve seen the difference it is making for them as they practice the “one-another” scriptures.


My heart is still drawn most to the guys in the high-max units, but this is a tough population. On Sunday we were in C-side which tends to have men with severe mental illness who are also prone to violence.

While we were there, we had to step into a safe waiting area as they moved a man from Psych lockdown to C-side. He was moved in a wheelchair and was accompanied by at least a dozen correctional officers. The reason there were so many is that, when they first attempted to move him, he attacked the guards that were with him. It is astonishing how much strength an enraged person has. There were now 12 guards on him because they needed at least 12 in case the situation began to deteriorate. What I appreciated about the guards in that situation was a sense of calm and professionalism. They knew they were dealing with a person who may not be able to control themselves and their job was to intervene as safely and efficiently as needed to keep anyone, including the man, from further injury.


Going cell to cell we find the men in varying states. Some are able to have good conversations and can choose books and magazines that we bring. Some are completely unresponsive as they stare vacantly out of the window of their cell. At some cells the stench of an unflushed toilet fouls the air. Some men speak in random, incoherent sentences. Another man is concerned that he is demon possessed.

Among the more troubling are the men that turn any interaction with another human being into a storm of rage and curses. Sometimes I have to walk away from a cell where a man has become abusive and out of control.

I recognize that in high-max it is unlikely that I will ever see much in the way of changed lives. My role is as a seed planter. A few weeks back in the Tuesday night group we were talking about Matthew 25, particularly at vs 36: I was in prison and you came to visit me.

I asked the men if and when they had seen this. One man told this story:

I was in juvenile hall. They had church services, but we never attended because we were too tough. We were hard-core gang members. After the service one of the women would come into the unit and invite us out, but again, we were too tough and just stayed in our cells. Even though no one came out she would still play guitar and sing:

This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This Little Light of Mine, Yes, I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

 The light that shines is the light of love,
Lights the darkness from above,
It shines on you and it shines on me, and it shows what the light of love can do.
I’m gonna shine my light both far and near,
I’m gonna shine mine light bright and clear, where there’s a dark corner in this land
I’m gonna let my little light shine. 

This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This Little Light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine,
This Little Light of Mine, Yes, I’m gonna let it shine,
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

We wouldn’t acknowledge her in any way, but three hours later in my cell her song was still running through my head. It’s been fifteen years since I was in juvenile hall, but I still remember that.


I go into the high-max units because that is where I am called.

I am there to acknowledge their humanity, even when the men have forgotten it.

I am there to watch and come alongside wherever God is already moving.

I am there to plant seeds.