Post Author: Kimberly Knowle-Zeller
I came home around lunchtime. I drove myself home, opened the fridge and wondered what I would gather for a meal. I sat down and turned on my computer, put some music on, and looked out the window at the crisp, dreary January day.
I don’t normally take such time to reflect on what a simple, meaningful thing it is to make the decision about what to eat. I don’t normally look outside and give thanks for being able to breathe fresh air and see glimpses of sunlight. I don’t normally reflect on how many choices I get to make in a given day.
Today, however, is different. For today, for just a moment, I received a glimpse into a world where choices are not taken for granted, a world where sunlight doesn’t reach your face, a world where doors shut behind you, a world where you are known not by the content of your heart but by offenses and actions.
In a word – jail.
This morning, the church I serve partnered with a few Methodist churches to provide a hot meal for the inmates at the Pettis County Jail. Because of budget cuts, hot meals are few and far between in any given week. Super Bowl weekend seemed as good a time as any to cook chili and assemble pimento cheese sandwiches. We collected the ingredients from the various churches, and several folks baked cakes and provided fresh fruit.
Trying to be mindful of the task at hand, I prayed.
I prayed for those who are prisoners to not only the justice system but to cycles of violence and drugs.
I prayed for those who are separated from loved ones.
I prayed for those who work extra shifts to pay for court fees.
I prayed for those who don’t get to see their children grow up.
I prayed for those who never knew the love of family.
I prayed to God for compassion.
I prayed to God for understanding.
I prayed to God for mercy.
After all this prayer, I needed to get moving. After all, we had a meal to deliver.
We could only drop off the food in the back by the kitchen. The meal would be served on Super Bowl Sunday – a hot meal cooked and prayed over, a meal of love. A meal for God’s children.
The final part of our day consisted of a tour of the jail. I’ve never been to a jail, and I didn’t know what to expect.
Once inside we found ourselves surrounded by darkness, dreariness, and the lack of light and hope. Every door that shut behind us produced a sound that could not be ignored. Every move was watched, every corner covered, every window provided only one way of viewing. It was stifling.
Perhaps what was most distressing from the tour was my total inability to do anything at all. I just watched, observed, asked a few questions. We couldn’t interact with anyone other than our group and the guard. We were only spectators.
When I returned home, I sat. I wondered.
I know some people who have a loved one in jail or who has served time in the recent past. I ask them questions. I listen. I pray for them and their loved one. I wonder what more I can do.
The question still remains about how to connect and follow the gospel mandate to proclaim release to the captives, to visit the prisoner in jail and to know that when we do so, we do it to Christ.
I have no answers; yet, I hope to have further conversation with those in my community about seeing those who are imprisoned as brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray that they will know and see themselves as children of God.
Perhaps in my questions I will ponder truthfully the reality about who is really trapped. I wonder if we have a connection in our society to prisoners because our lives are behind not physical bars but bars of fear, ignorance, racism and addiction. Are we prisoners to following the status quo? Are we prisoners to self-doubt and insecurity? Are we prisoners to a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross?
I invite you to join me in the questions and to join me in praying with Jesus:
”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Image by: Tim Pearce
Used with permission