There is no denying the ability of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to come into a man’s heart and change him from the inside out. There is no denying the power of a changed life. There is no denying that when we learn to love each other, to care for each other, that people will be affected for the better. Lives will begin to change when shown the selfless love of Jesus. Too often, we walk down the street, or through the mall or somewhere else, and we see hurting and needy people, but most of the time, we just pass on by. Indifferent, maybe. But sometimes, just reluctant to get involved. It’s not our problem, we say. We can’t help everyone. It’s not that we don’t care, but, really, I mean, what good could we really do, anyway? So we walk on by. And we miss our chance to make a difference, to heal a hurt, or even to save a life.
In our Correctional Facilities, there are housed what are considered the worst of the worst our society has to offer. Murderers, Rapists, Drug-Dealers, Child Molesters, Robbers, and Thieves. Some of these people are still pretty unscrupulous. Some of them are still wrestling with their issues. But in every prison and every jail there are also those who have made some changes, experienced some growth, and turned away from their former lives of crime. Some of these men have accepted Christ and have really bought in to what it truly means to be a Christian. Some of these men put me to shame. Let me tell you a story, a very true story, of compassion from the inside…
In this prison, there is a man named Jeff who has struggled with drug addiction and mental illness for many, many years. Jeff has been incarcerated for decades with Life Without Parole and has very little support from the outside. He works in the prison kitchen, and, from time to time, he can make a sandwich or two to sell, but for the most part, Jeff doesn’t have too much. Jeff’s story is not unusual for prison, but, actually, very common. Jeff likes to sing, and every once in a while, he will come out to the Chapel and sing a song or two to the Lord. I have talked to him many times and I know how he struggles. A joint or a pill or a shot of dope are never far away.
One day, Jeff got an unexpected blessing. His sister sent him $50. He was thrilled. I suppose maybe he should have thought about the future, maybe saved a bit of it, but Jeff was so excited, he went to our Snack Line, and spent it all: 9 Cheeseburgers, a dozen Pastries, a case of Coca-Colas, and plenty of Potato Chips. It was more stuff than Jeff had had in a very, very long time. Two grocery bags full of food. He was going to be able to pay off all of his debts and still have stuff for himself. He went back to his dorm, walked into his cell, and put the sacks on his bed. Two guys walked in behind him. A few moments later, Jeff had nothing. These guys had pulled a knife, put it to Jeff’s throat, smacked him around, and stole everything he had.
I would like to say that there was some justice to be had for Jeff, but, unfortunately, there was not. Angry, frustrated, miserable, and humiliated, all Jeff could think to do was get his own knife and pay these guys back. Instead, he went to the prison Chapel.
The Chapel was mostly empty. Jeff sat alone on a bench, crying softly to himself. If he stabbed these guys, he’d be locked up for a year or two, he’d lose his job, he might even lose his life, but he didn’t know what else to do. As he sat there, another inmate named Sean walked by, stopped, and sat down beside Jeff. “What’s wrong?” he asked. Jeff couldn’t speak. Sean put his hand on Jeff’s shoulder and just sat there. After a few minutes, Jeff finally croaked out, “They took it all” as he pulled out his receipt from the Snack Line. “Tell me about it” Sean said. It took a while, but finally Jeff was able to tell the whole story, and then he told Sean what he was going to do about it. Sean sat quietly for a minute or two, looking at the receipt. “Jeff,” he said, “If the Lord Jesus could give you all of your stuff back, everything on this list, right now, could you forgive these two guys who robbed you?” Jeff choked up, unable to respond. Sean asked again, “If Jesus gave it all back, right now, could you forgive them?” Jeff finally nodded his head. “Yes” he croaked. “Come with me, then.” Sean said, as he got up and walked out of the Chapel. A few minutes later, they were standing at the Snack Line and Sean was making an order: 9 Cheeseburgers, a dozen Pastries, a case of Coca-Colas, and a dozen bags of Potato Chips. He handed the sacks to Jeff, said “Jesus loves you, Jeff”, and walked away with tears in his eyes. Sean spent his own store money, not just so Jeff could have his stuff back, but also to save the two thieves lives and to keep Jeff out of trouble. He did it out of love, because Jesus loved him first. He is walking the Christian life, deep behind prison walls and fences.
Today, Jeff is doing well. Still working in the kitchen, trying to make it. I see him from time to time. The other day he came out to the Chapel to sing…