I drove up to Springer, NM today for a Wings prison party. It was a long day, but worth every second. Oddly enough, when my boss asked me to share my thoughts about the party, I couldn't think of much to say. I always do that, and it drives me crazy. It was actually a very fun, educational, and even humbling experience for me. It was my first "prison party" in an actual prison - very different from the Women's Recovery Academy earlier this year. There were rolls of barbed wire on all the fences. The men wore orange jumpsuits, and the guards carried guns. The atmosphere, however, was not at all what I expected. I'm afraid of security and always have been. I HATED going through airport security even before TSA got crazy on us. The officers at Springer immediately put me at ease. They smiled and introduced themselves, and they even helped us unload our van. Their relaxed, friendly demeanors set the tone for the rest of my experience there.
When we go into prisons, we are there to serve the inmates and their families, and to show them God's love. But today, I found the inmates repeatedly trying to serve us. I had not expected that at all. Just before the party was due to start, I was near the entrance, greeting visitors as they arrived and asking them to make name tags. There were two inmates, one of them acting very nervous, looking out a nearby window. The nervous one said to his friend, "Maybe she's not coming." His friend kept reassuring him that if she said she'd be there, she'd be there. I felt immediately invested in whether or not the wife or girlfriend in question would arrive, and when she finally did, I smiled shamelessly while they embraced. She made a name tag and pretended not to notice I'd been staring at her, and the couple went in to join the party, leaving the second inmate standing alone. He looked like the stereotypical "scary" looking convict. Use whatever image comes to mind. He heard me mention that I was thirsty. I immediately forgot that I'd said it. Ten minutes later, when I'd already moved on to another task, he tracked me down and handed me a cup of ice water. It might sound like a small thing, but it's precisely because it's a small thing that most of us would not bother. That was the first time I realized that these men wanted to make us feel welcome in their facility.
There was another guy by the name of Gerald (Jerald?) who helped us in every possible way before, during and after the party. I think if he'd had his way, we would not have lifted a single box all day. I got a chance to talk to him for a while. We talked about his family, who were not there today, his experiences with Christianity and the church, and the long-term goals that were put on hold by his bad choices. He'll be released in less than two months. He told me that he hopes to get work as an electrician, maybe find a church to join, and eventually go back to school. Near the end of the party, I sat down with a group as they ate their meal and talked. An inmate who could not have been older than 21 offered me his chair and then poured me a glass of lemonade. He and his family had caught my attention earlier while we were singing praise music. He had one arm around his little sister and the other up over his head while he sang. I talked to his mom some, too, and I think she might join us for a Monday night Wings meeting sometime soon.
I am currently too tired to channel these random snapshots into anything insightful or clever. I just wanted to present the things that stood out me. If I were a good writer (or at least an awake one), I would give the observations more meaning for you. I guess I still have to process them and figure out how my perspective is supposed to be shaped.
Oh! and I'm getting a new bathroom!!!! Well, it's the same bathroom. But it will be retiled and have new plumbing and such. I'm excited. I had this crazy notion that my unexplainable fever of over a month was caused by black mold, even though I'd seen very little of it in my bathroom. My wonderful dad decided I might actually be onto something. He came over and pulled up my linoleum. Sure enough, mold was thriving under there. I haven't been using that bathroom for about a week now, and I feel a little better already. I'd like to think they're connected. I'll try to post pictures as the project progresses.