For the past six months I’ve been meeting with the guys in one of the cell blocks. Many of the guys are gang dropouts, meaning that they had been active gang members but now no longer wish to be involved with their former gangs. Quite a few have already spent time in prison and have seen that continued involvement in the gangs ultimately leads to incarceration or death.
There tends to be lower turnover in this unit. Most of the guys currently here were also in this unit six months ago. Because of this stability the men coming to Bible Study have been learning how to become the Church for each other.
Some time back “J” was talking about how God transformed his life. He was convicted a few years ago and is currently serving a prison sentence of 25-50 years. He was back in the jail while portions of his case were on appeal and being reviewed. He went to prison as a hard-core gang member. But while he was in prison he had a cell-mate (aka as cellie) who had become a Christian while he was in prison. “J” was impressed by how peaceful his cellie was. The man patiently explained how God had transformed his life, and that God could do the same for “J”. He began attending church at the prison. The men in the church were very open and honest about their backgrounds, about how God had helped them, and about the areas where they still struggled. For about half a year “J” just sat in the background as he watched and listened. One day during church one of them men said to “J”, “you’ve heard our stories – now let’s hear about you.” As “J” began to tell his story it brought him tears and healing. He had never before had an experience like that.
At the jail “J” and some of the other men in the Bible Study shared areas where they still struggled. They shared stories of trauma that still haunted them, and they asked for healing.
You need to understand how much risk these men were taking by sharing these stories. Behind the walls information about others can be used as a tool to control someone, or to exact revenge.
By sharing with the group, they were allowing themselves to be vulnerable. They were also trusting everyone else in the group to hold on to this confidential information, and to not share it, or use it as a weapon against those who had laid bare their souls. In the weeks to come the others in the group learned that this was a place of trust and safety. They too began to share their stories, and received healing and grace. They are becoming the Church.
James 5:13-16 (NIV)
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.