Posted by: minnow | May 25, 2008

Life Sentence

A while back I spoke of the Global Day of Prayer. I also mentioned a free carnival my son took part in planning for kids in our city. I saw the carnival as an opportunity for us to pass on our blessings in the spirit of the Global Day of Prayer’s 90 days of blessing. The carnival took place a week ago and went very well! They had numerous sponsors, lots of volunteers and about 400 kids showed up. Everything was free–the food, the games, a petting zoo, a puppet show, live music–everything. Even the weather performed perfectly–85 degrees and a breeze. I honestly do not know who was blessed more–the folks who came or the volunteers who gave their time. That is the thing about being a blessing–you cannot help but get a little of it back.

I have a friend whose adopted brother is in prison. I do not know the details of his crime. He suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome, had an overbooked public defender not do a very good job of defending him, and will spend the next eleven years away from his family in a very frightening and confusing place. The prison has taken him off all his medication. It is policy. Yet, he is held accountable for the behavior that was formerly modified by the medication. My friend, a former lawyer, tried to intercede for her brother but was stymied by the system. In the end her brother, who often takes responsibility for things that are not entirely his fault (a problem that has continued to place him on the wrong side of several situations in prison), pled guilty on the recommendation of his overworked public defender.

Now my friend and her family have the unpleasant task of walking through the next eleven years feeling frustrated, helpless, and at the mercy of a heartless penal system. Her brother may eventually learn the ropes of prison life. But, it is more likely that the manifestations of his mental deficiencies will continue to get him into trouble and he will suffer from periodic bouts of privilege loss. What the long term toll of this situation will be is anyone’s guess.

About a month ago my friend shared with several others her struggle with the enormous task of keeping her family emotionally afloat and her brother’s spirits lifted.  She asked us to consider praying for and writing to her brother one day a month, saying that in exchange she would pray for us. I immediately agreed. My first letter and second day of prayer will be on the second of June. Her request was for a year’s commitment but I suspect many of us will gladly continue beyond that point. Again, something about being a blessing reverses the process so the one who blesses is actually blessed as well.  Perhaps it is my friend‘s promise of prayer but I feel encouraged and refreshed simply anticipating my part in this adventure.

I did a little research the other day, after my friend asked me to pray for and write to her brother. An estimated 80 percent of prisoner inmates do not have regular contact with the outside world. That leaves only 20 percent who hear or get visits from home with any kind of consistency. Something is wrong with this picture when you consider nearly 70 percent of the U. S. adult population profess to be Christian. A quick check online revealed that prison prayer ministries do exist. Most are connected to in-house prison ministries that include Bible studies and chapel services. Some also include a pen pal component. Additional pen pal opportunities exist as well. I have not personally check any of these ministries out further so I cannot make any specific recommendations. Still, my point stands; we have an opportunity to be light in the dark world of a prison simply by writing a letter and praying for someone once a month. Think about it, especially if you are a stay at home mom, a retired person, or just someone who only has a little time to give but has not found a ministry that just needs a little bit of time.

Now, I do not want to be a wet blanket on the idea I just advocated but I have a few cautions to pass on as well. Especially if you are single and do not have a built in connection with a prisoner (like mine to my friend’s brother) only consider writing someone of the same gender. Ask a friend or pastor to read the letters you receive and the ones you write. In other words, share this ministry with others. NEVER send money. I do not know how prisoners are screened when you get in contact with prisoners through any of the already established programs so UNLESS YOU KNOW what crime got the prisoner you are writing into prison in the first place be wise about the personal information you share. Finally, I would caution you to avoid sending photographs of you or your family, especially young children. A sad reality is that pedophiles use these pictures to take their minds places their minds should not go and even if the prisoner you write is not a pedophile things have a way of falling into the wrong hands in a prison. Jesus taught us to be salt and light. He also said we are to be wise.

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