“Brother, you’re someone to somebody. You matter.”
When I asked if there was a need in any of the other dorms for a chaplain, I didn’t think that it would lead me to a new chapter in my ministry – this time, in the men’s jail. I had a few unfortunate experiences in the men’s jail when I was back in Baguio City, and it left me feeling uncomfortable and uneasy. Luckily, we caught it with enough time when I was over there in the PI, that we started requesting more officers to be present. When I decided to start up my ministry again here in norCal, I def had no desire to be placed in that unit. Women all the way..at least, to start!
This time around, my ministry took a new direction and headed me to this new unit this month. Leading up to this evening, I sought out my prayer warriors and let them know that I needed their prayers. I didn’t know what to expect. Texting friends, calling on them to pray for me as I embarked on this new journey was a gift in itself. I am grateful to have community that believes in prayer. I had been used to the women’s unit for so long, that this just seemed like a whole new playing field. So many anxieties, questions, thoughts, fears…and yet, at the same time, I felt very much strengthened and supported. I continually thought to myself,”Me? God, are you sure? You want me to go?”
In preparation, I went to the library (what?!) and rented “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stephenson. I listened to this audiobook as I drove from norCal to soCal and back over the break, and was continually hit hard with emotion at varied times. I was encouraged by the work of EJI, and I felt gratitude to be a part of journeying with those who are incarcerated, even if in the slightest way. Filled with fear? Oh, definitely. But, at the same time, encouraged.
I knew it would be a change, here in a new unit, and yet, with so many thoughts in my head, and feelings in my heart, I walked on through.
I was shadowing someone this evening, and I already got so nervous! There were more doors in this unit, there were different walkways to go through, different check-ins. “Ah, metal detector beeped! Was it in the underwire in my bra? I swear, I don’t have anything! No cell phone, nothing! Just my Bible and my altar trinkets!” I was OK. I thought to myself, “Crystal, breathe.” But I remember thinking to myself, “Hmm…when I come here the next time on my own, will I remember all the turns in this corridor?” I guess I would find out soon enough.
Got to the unit, and as soon as we got to the small room within the dorm, I was immediately at ease. Immediately. I had said a special prayer to all my patron saints, and never felt alone. This feeling was unlike anything I could describe. The power of prayer – that’s what it was.
We talked about God’s love for us, how God loves each person unconditionally – without end. We reminded the men how they are beloved – how we are each a child of God. We reflected on scripture and it was faith-filled. I will always remember a moment when one of the guys was looking down at the floor, and then he looked me in the eye after a pause in discussion, and said, “What happens when the system doesn’t see us and treat us like that?” Another man interjected and said, “Brother, you’re someone to somebody. You matter.”
That evening, each man started his prayer intention, in praying for his mother. It struck such a chord with me, and in that moment, I was reminded yet again, each person here is not just a number. These individuals are living hearts. Perhaps mistakes have been made, maybe truly terrible ones, but I wholeheartedly believe that we are all imperfect beings. And if I could play any part in sharing compassion and understanding, and presence with these brothers of mine, I will gladly do it. I believe in restorative justice, and I believe in supporting others through the process.
I believe in healing – for those who have been offended and those who have offended, and I recognize it will be a long road, but the Holy Spirit is so present in that dorm – at least, in that meeting room, and each time I visit, I am confident, we will be one step closer towards that lasting peace.