It was something I’d been wanting to do for a long time — but as the day approached, I wasn’t so sure anymore.
After moving to Ellijay many years ago I had occasion to join a local ministry. One of the projects they’d been working on statewide was collecting Bibles to take into the prison system, and then actually sending a team in to distribute them.
The hotel where I was staying was near Vidalia onion country, since we were going inside Reidsville State Prison. Reidsville, one of Georgia’s “premier” incarceration facilities where they reputedly send the toughest of the hardened criminals. As I paced the floor in my room on Saturday, I asked myself, “What was I thinking? What is it I can tell these guys tomorrow?”
Continuing to pace and pray, I felt compelled to look up Joel 2 in one of those Bibles in the nightstand drawer. When I came to a section about “restoring the years that the locusts have eaten,” I stopped and realized that’s the way it had happened in my life — I had given up years of going down the wrong roads and found a better way.
Then I had a distinct Impression who said, “That’s what I want you to tell those men.”
What you hear about going into prison is true. There’s a clanging finality as the metal doors slam shut one after the other and the big locks echo loudly in an environment that has no sound-absorbing properties.
The chapel service on Sunday morning was packed with dozens of inmates and the guys on our team. A couple of prison visitation “veterans” in our group turned around in the pew in front of me — perhaps sensing an anxious rookie in their midst — and one of them said, “See that big guy sitting up there? He murdered two people and beat up a guard in here. He’s never getting out.”
Awed, I stared at the back of the man three or four pews ahead of us. His upper body looked like a piece of angle iron even with his prison uniform on. The service was inspiring, but my number one objective was to sidle into the aisle as quickly as I could and get out of the chapel before that big guy saw me. It didn’t work. I made it to the aisle and looked toward the front and there he came, a huge smile on his face and a Bible in one meaty hand.
“Hey brother! How ya doin’?” he boomed, then grabbed me and hugged me like a long lost friend.
“Great!” I said, and meant it, for I had seen something transformational in his eyes — a mixture of joy and love and peace that could only have come from One source. After that I moved through the corridors of cells and open squadbays with the rest of our team, taking time and talking freely to the inmates with no fear.
Just last week I was talking to a friend with a counseling ministry. He had written an e-newsletter recently sharing the testimonials of people who had been helped — but remained unnamed — and I told him how encouraging it was to read those brief vignettes of change. Of course, he has a Senior Partner who “has his back” and does a good part of the work.
National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month is September, but why wait? Those struggling can get help now, and it’s as simple as going to The Daily Citizen website at daltonnow.com and typing “substance abuse recovery” into the search engine. There are several stories with contact information for ministries and outreaches.
The thing about locusts is they’re ravenous and never stop destroying. But there are people — and support groups — who are willing to help.
And restore the years.