It’s no secret to those who know me that I’m friends with a lot of guys in prison. Today I found out about another—an old friend from high school who is currently sitting in prison awaiting trial for possibly killing his girlfriend. Somehow this one feels different. Maybe because I never knew any of the guys I now know in prison before they were ever incarcerated. My heart breaks for him and his family. And I wish I was closer to Los Angeles, so I could go visit him…and just catch up.
I’ve known several incarcerated men over the past 16 years since deciding to start a grassroots prison ministry. This decision takes me inside the walls of a local prison each Friday morning when I get to hang out with a small group of guys for a weekly Bible Study. Sometimes we open the Bible, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we talk about sports, politics, TV, music, movies…anything really, that a group of guys would talk about it. But my number one goal is to cut through all the religiosity that so many of us have been living under most of our lives. I want to get to the bottom of it, and find out what’s real, what’s not…and what really matters.
The thing I find the most common is the thinking that if you’re good enough, you’ll make it to Heaven. That if somehow God deems you worthy of salvation, then you’ll receive it. But ultimately, there’s no way of knowing until you actually meet Him face to face, so you better do your darndest to be good! To me, this flat out disregards the need for Jesus to have died on the cross. Because of what Jesus did, my entrance into Heaven is no longer on my shoulders—it’s on His. Grace is a free gift. No strings attached.
As you can imagine, this information sounds impossible to most people, especially people who are behind bars—serving time for something illegal they did. You do something wrong, you get punished. There’s no room for grace in the justice system. But in our little meetings there is. And my goal each week is to bring in a giant heaping of it, and dump it all over these guys, regardless of what they’ve done to get them there.
That’s what I wish I could do for my friend sitting in the L.A. County Jail—spending Thanksgiving alone, being held on $2,000,000 bond and awaiting trial that will begin on the 30th of this month.
It’s no coincidence that I searched for him on Facebook today, only to find that my friend request was still awaiting confirmation. Then to have web search results bring up dozens of sensationalized stories about him. I couldn’t believe it. But the more I read, I can believe it. Not that I think he’s guilty, there’s no way of knowing that. But I know for certain that we are all capable of being amazing, loving people. But also with the wrong combination of stressors, not to mention substances, people that I care about deeply, and even myself, can turn into monsters. I pray for mercy, and commit myself to continue offering grace and hope to those whom society has decided doesn’t deserve them.