My guard was up when we first walked into the prison cafeteria where I was going to speak. All of the inmates wore identical t-shirts and dark-colored denim pants stamped in orange with the initials of the prison they currently called home. I had wished that I had worn my “tough girl” clothes, but instead I chose to wear my pansy, princess attire. Ha, ha, ha. I wondered how they would receive me…would they think I couldn’t relate because I had never been to prison?
The room started to fill up fast. Some looked like your typical next door neighbor, school teacher, mother, grandmother, and a few that looked pretty hard core. They wore no chains around their ankles or handcuffs on their wrists. There were no barriers between us, we were permitted to mingle unrestrained.
This unique opportunity was extra special to me, not only because of the setting, but also because it was my mentor (Patti) who invited me to speak at the prison. Years earlier, God used Patti to pull me out of my old lifestyle. When I first met her, she was volunteering as a recovery mentor at the women’s prison and at local jails. One day, while driving me to rehab, Patti took me to the jail and gave me the opportunity to encourage and pray for a young, pregnant inmate who had plans to return to her abusive boyfriend upon her release. It was an honor and a major boost of confidence that Patti trusted me in that way, despite the condition of my life at the time.
Patti began my introduction to the women of Coffee Creek by telling them the story of how we met. Humble, grateful tears slid down my cheeks (I was thankful to have waterproof mascara on). My nervousness left me as soon as I began to speak, I felt as if I was talking to a group of close friends. I was in my element.
I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself while on stage because of a truth the Lord revealed to me. I drove five hours with the purpose and intention to “minister” to and encourage these prisoners but in reality I was being ministered to and encouraged by them. Some of those Girls were more passionate about their faith than most people I see in church.
Jesus used me to remind them that they were freer behind bars then most of the people on the outside. He wanted them to know that their ministry was where their feet were placed and He wanted to use them as a light in that dark place. I encouraged them to make the most out of every opportunity by witnessing to each other, the officers who guard them, and every missionary who comes into “help” them. I reminded them that they have a very unique perspective and special relationship with Jesus that needs to be shared.
Patti interjected when I had finished telling my story. She explained to the women, “God is no respecter of persons. Michelle was changed by Him and the only thing she did and continues to do is go ALL IN with Jesus.” Patti asked that all the women who wished to follow my example to raise their hand or stand up. The response was overwhelming. Women stood to their feet and hands shot up all over the room. I could hear them sobbing, sniffling and agreeing with me in prayer.
You see, when a person loses everything that ever mattered to them and all that remains is their relationship with the Lord, they realize that He is all they need. We should envy this kind of authentic relationship with Jesus that these precious women possess. We don’t have to get locked up to experience it either, it’s available to all of us.
Our time together concluded with us swaying side to side, hand in hand, singing a praise song to Jesus. I thought to myself “I never want to forget this moment, this is absolutely beautiful. I can picture us singing together in Heaven someday just like this.”
I realized through this experience that many of the inmates are freer than most people on the “outside.” The freedom they know is the same freedom offered to us all, but sadly many of us don’t walk in that truth. If you are a Believer in Jesus, then your “prison sentence” has been forgiven….you have been pardoned by the sacrificial love of your Savior and the prison door has been opened for you. You must make the decision to take His hand and allow him to walk you out of the walls that contain you. The Lord approaches you and says “Come, take My hand. I died to set you free & you are free indeed…now kick that self-made prison door open and walk out of there!” Okay, Jesus didn’t exactly say that…that is my interpretation.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” Isaiah 61:1