Kristine and I just returned from an evening that left both of us introspectively contemplating life at a whole new level. We joined our friends and ministry partners at the women’s prison in Gig Harbor to listen in on a choir concert being given by about fifteen of the inmates. We knew the moment would be very special for our friends, she had done time in this prison a few years ago and he had been out of prison for just a couple of years too. So returning to the other side of the razor wire was a big deal to both of them, more than we know.
As we entered the secure campus through a series of sealed doors and hallways the moment became acutely surreal. This “house” had three areas, minimum security to maximum security all surrounded with rolls and rolls of razor wire and 15 foot fences.
Through another door, down a passage and into a courtyard brought us to a garden with flowers and vegetables. Several of the female inmates loitered just beyond a couple of fences as we turned and entered the little white chapel situated next to the concrete block walls of maximum security.
We sat down in the audience with about 40 others from several different churches and soon we were introduced to the night by Frank who leads the ministry in the prison, himself being out of prison just ten years.
The sound of women’s voices came in the back door as fifteen ladies entered and took their places in the front, following a very energetic African American lady who directed them.
Instantly I started to cry. God showed these ladies entering this building as 3 year old girls, innocent and pure, smiles and pretty dresses and now many years later they are standing front of us with a red choir robe covering their institution issued grey sweat shirt and pants, smiles but their innocence and purity has been taken.
It was extremely hard for us to process as we realized that the difference between Kristine and I and these ladies was an extremely thin line. As they sang “Amazing Grace” and “Our God is Sovereign” and many other songs that lifted praise to God for his goodness, care and love we saw women, young and old, who looked no different from a selected group of women from church. They didn’t look like harden criminals who have no soul. They are our mothers, sisters and daughters.
The only difference…they were serving years for a crime…drugs, prostitution, robbery, extortion, violence and murder. Their forgiveness is the same as the forgiveness that we experience from God. He loves them as much as he loves us. Their sins are forgotten as are ours. They are paying the human penalty for the wrong they have done. But the wrongs they have committed have originated from choices they have made, which have come from past experiences and abuses and often atrocities that have occurred against them as little girls.
I have wrestling emotions as my heart goes out to them, but knowing if the victim of the crime they had committed sat next to me my heart would also go out to them. In the madness and chaos of this sinful world people are crippled by the choice to seek after self with no thought of the pain it will cause others and inside of the one criminal act possibly hundreds are affected and humans on both sides of the equation cry out to God for justice and healing.
My heart breaks for them, but rejoices at the same time. They have surrendered to God and have chosen transformation (possibly). Some of them I am sure will return to a life of crime when they are released. Others will return to the streets of Seattle, namely one Aurora Avenue, maybe in our back yard. They will return with little ability to cope or live in life on the “outside.” They will return years from incarceration to streets and life that have changed and they will have no friends and often no family.
“Lord will you place us in their path, to be their family when they arrive back on the streets?” Many will gravitate to North Seattle and find themselves in the cheap motels trying to scrounge up enough money for one more night. In these motels they will quickly return to their past experiences and be sucked back into the enemies clutches. Unless there is a thriving church where they can find a family who will love them.
There is a thin line that separates us. Many of us know the line is only as thin as the fact that they were caught and we weren’t. Or the fact that every sin carries the penalty of death in God’s eyes, and since we all have fallen short of God’s glory we are just as guilty as these women. But it is God’s forgiveness that make these ladies our sisters.
At the end of the night Kristine and I got to walk out of the 15 foot fences encircled with razor wire with our friends, who understood the freedom even more, and drove the miles north to our homes, where our family waits with hugs and warm soft beds welcome and embrace us.
We will go to sleep tonight praising God for freedom, in life and in Christ.