Yesterday, I spent three and a half hours in the Gatesville prison. I was there to speak about "family" as a part of their educational track. (I talked about family as it was always meant to be.) I spoke to two different classes in two different prison units. These classes were composed of about thirty women in each class. My time with each class was about an hour and fifteen minutes per class.
What was it like? These women were courteous, appreciative, and very attentive. Lots of discussion and interaction. What I remember most is their facial expressions. They were alive and engaging.
In each class, after I finished speaking, they asked questions. My host, their regular teacher, (all of these women are a part of an educational program in the prison) asked them, "Do you have any questions?" Immediately (in each class), five or six hands were raised. They asked questions about my children, the church, my work (I mentioned that I once drove a UPS truck right after college). They asked more questions about their own family situations. "What do you think about...?"
This was the first time I had ever spoken in a women's prison. Some years ago, I spoke in Leavenworth Penitentiary. Did that a few times. (I spoke in their chapel on a Sunday.) In Leavenworth, I spoke to men. I remember those occasions as being powerful moments as well.
A couple of observations:
1. I left the prison energized. Why? I think it was the energy in the room coupled with their interest in this topic ("family").
2. I came away feeling thankful. Thankful I could spend an afternoon in such an encouraging, engaging atmosphere.
3. I drove away from the prison with a real concern. I began to think about the difference in listeners who are engaged and in those whose minds seem to be a million miles away. (I've been there--often.) Unfortunately, all too often, many of us have a dull glaze over our faces (and perhaps our hearts as well). We are not fully engaged with God. Maybe it is too familiar. Maybe we are distracted by our idols.