On Saturday I Went To Prison

by - August 06, 2012

On Saturday I went to prison. It was the kind of prison with razor wire and fences and armed guards and I’m going to tell you about it. It wasn’t like going to the beach, or to the museum, or home.

Prison is another place I’ve always never wanted to go. But, I had opportunity to be a part of the small team allowed to go with the founder of the ministry I work for who was invited to speak to the women living there. You could call them inmates. You could call them convicted felons. You could call them murderers, mentally ill, embezzlers, prostitutes, conspirators. But as I learned on Saturday…you could also call them daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, and friends. Going to the prison is definitely something I would have said “I’m not called to do that” (usually translated: I don’t want to do that.) When will I learn? Honestly, I don’t really even want to write about it. All day long I’ve wanted to not write about Saturday. Now it’s ten o’clock. I’m tired, and I’m writing about it.

I don’t like where my heart was going into the prison. Probably a little arrogant that I’m not a prisoner. Probably a little too self-assured that I was going there to bless them. I wasn’t broken or hurting for them. I may have felt sorry for them, but mostly I was just going on a righteous fieldtrip. Gross. I’m sorry Lord, for the things I’ve made it, when it’s all about You… I think this is a good time to type out loud: The point of every story I share is not ever what I am doing, but always what He is doing. It may look good on a spiritual resume to be able to type "Prison Ministry," but if it is out of my desire to have purpose/perform a work, and not out of Love for the broken and hurting then I should stay home. Most other (quote-unquote) religions have a do-good-to-others list of activities; ultimately for the self-benefit of good coming back to you.  Only through Jesus Christ is there freedom from performing the right behaviors.  If you disagree, I pray you get more time to get to know Him, and not make your assumptions based on His followers who are still learning ourselves because at some point we will let you down. Some get stuck on the Christian list of Do’s and Don’ts not realizing that as He changes our hearts, He changes our behaviors. We don’t have to be strong enough to please him, its kind of just the opposite.  He wants my heart, not my works, not perfection…just my heart, then He will establish my steps. Make no mistake though…he does want to set us free from sin, not make us comfortable in it. Sometimes my heart is still divided between me and Him. But, maybe that is what God is doing for me right now…teaching me to love like He loves, instead of just how I want to love.

So, again: On Saturday I went to prison…

Prison officials sent us a list of Do’s and Don’ts that included what kind of shoes to wear in case we needed to run. Don’t wear a lot of jewelry. Don’t wear khaki so you don’t blend in with the inmates. Don’t touch the inmates. They’ve been told not to touch us. Don’t ask them why they are in there. Don’t ask them about their medical conditions. The officials have to send the list to prepare us, and to keep things safe, but it was a little unsettling.  All I know about prison I learned on tv.  I kind of play out worst-case-scenarios in my mind. In the 4th grade I used to plan through what I would do if Russian parachutes started dropping on the Liberty Elementary playground. I would crawl up in the cubby behind Mrs. Hanby’s desk and wait until nightfall. Then making my way to the railroad tracks through the drainage ditch by the park, I would meet up with Patrick Swayze and whatever other Liberty Leopards that made it out and we would go all Wolverine on the Communists. Mostly just daydreams, but had the Russians ever dropped on Ponca during my 4th grade year, I did have a plan. I'm glad that to this day I still don’t know if it would have worked. Leading up to Saturday, I thought through a plan for things going bad at the prison, too. Again, mostly not serious, but a mix of Die Hard, Walker Texas Ranger and Nicholas Cage in The Rock and I had a tentative plan of escape. And again, I don’t know if it would have worked...

I guess I thought they would be so different from me. In a lot of ways they were, but in all the ways that matter they weren’t. When we walked in all the women were already seated. Probably close to 300. They stood and started clapping. We made our way to the front of the very large, white hall that resembled, in look and feel, an old school gymnasium. We took our seats on the front row. Treated as honored guests they had been waiting for. They love June and the Hope she has been surrendered to share with them for over 25 years.

Then, to my heartbreak, they began their ministry to us. About 10 women who were dressed in black with their faces painted with different mime-like make-up to represent their individual characters went and sat in chairs already at the front of the audience.  The chairs had signs on them that read:  Liar, Robber, Killer, Suicidal, Abortion, Confused, Adulterer, Atheist. Then they did a performance dance to this song:

 What If? - Mirella and Kanto (song by James Fortune)

These women I would have called inmates, I left thinking of as sisters Christ came to love and set free.  They laid their sins bare and through this song asked:

“Would he love me?”

“Would he forgive me?”

“Would he save me?”

“Would he dare to use me?”

The answer for Jesus is yes. Always yes.  The answer for me hasn't always been so consistent. On Saturday He showed me His love for them, and for me, inspite of us.

Here is what else he showed me as they danced and I cried: Prison IS their freedom. As I watched the women dance with genuine humility I began to see that God used this prison to set them free. He allowed the consequences this world has put in place so that He could free them from lives lived in the sins of: robbery, killing, drugs.  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  He freed them from homes of abuse, neglect, fear and pain. He drew them away to this place where they could learn of Him. Come to meet Him. Dance for him. Rely on Him. Hope in Him. Secure eternity with Him. Of course not that prison doesn’t come with its own pain, but based on the love and thanksgiving they displayed in front of us, that prison is their gracious wilderness that is leading to their victory in Christ. Still suffering the consequences in this life, but being set free of the chains that have bound them, and accepting that there is HOPE beyond their sentence.

I have been thinking what prison is my freedom? What prison breaks my chains? What prison is your freedom? Is it depression that has you bound? Is it addiction? Is it grief? Is it failure? Is it abuse? Is it rejection? Is it cancer? Those prisons come through God’s hands so that we may experience true Freedom from the expectations, injustice, tragedy, false idols, and chaos of this world; whatever form that may take in our own lives, so that we have an almost forced stillness to allow us time to listen to him, be loved, strengthened, forgiven and freed by Him. Time to find His peace. I’m not an inmate at a women’s prison, but I have experienced the prisons of consequences of my own actions that have bound me, and looking back graciously, forced me to be still. All of those things we run after: status, justice, gratifications. God in His mercy, may have to imprison us to protect us from ourselves, so that we may be saved, redeemed, freed into new life.  Less like prison, more like shelter.  Time to heal.  Time for Truth. That is the picture I saw on Saturday.  New life.  Not hopelessness.  Sometimes He will allow us time in the wilderness, He will touch our hip out of socket, and He will allow the consequences, the prisons, to provide an opportunity for us to turn back in repentance to where our heart belongs. To be a reflection of His glory, instead of, in spite of, or in the midst of being a victim of this world, the sins of others and our own deliberate sin.

You may think how could a loving God allow…? But, how could a loving God not? How could a loving God leave any stone unturned, even a stone that may be thrown at us, or a stone used to build a wall around us, if it would lead to Salvation? Why would he take away the desperation that leads us to Him, knowing that He would do anything to secure our reconciliation to Him. Even come to die. Through Jesus Christ he proved to us that he loves us and “He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 2:4. It’s important to know: We can avoid prison. It’s also important to know that when we don't, one day He will open the door and set the captives free. And, it’s most important to know that day can always be today, from the inside out, regardless of whether the bars of our prison are literal or not.  Amazing Grace.

You May Also Like


  1. I miss you Haley Scully. I miss your genuine frankness and your honest willingness to examine life through eyes of wonder. Thank you for sharing your experience and your conviction.

  2. Wow Haley. Such truth in your words. To know that God can use prison to set someone free! He is a gracious and loving God. Thanks for sharing this.