I am in a choir called, "The Tender Mercies Choir." I met the director of the choir when I crashed her karaoke birthday party a couple of years ago. So glad that I did because I met an amazing person in her as well as her amazing friends.
The choir had been practicing since September and December 15th 2013 was the day we performed! What an incredible experience it was to sing for the prisoners!
We started out in the women's prison and we set up in a room and the ladies came in and sat down (there were probably 30 women?). We shared stories of how we were thankful for Christ's birth and his sacrifice for us so that we could be forgiven of the mistakes we have made in life so that we could be healed from our trials and health. And we sang Christmas songs that went along with the experience that was shared. I was able to share my back surgery story and I had to really cut out a lot. I couldn't share how old I was or the name of the hospital. I felt I broke it down pretty well and I testified that because of Christ's sacrifice I was able to apologize to my father in heaven and be healed. I went home after my surgery without pain medication and that is unheard of. Many of the women cried and when it was all done they shook our hands.
The next prison we went to was the minimum security and it was all men. They had a prisoner greet us and he was in charge of the meeting. He had people pray and then we began our program. One prisoner waved his arm as if leading the music. Others had tears in their eyes. Again when we were done they all shook our hands and thanked us for coming. I felt NO fear while there.
The next prison was the maximum security prison and we had a little hiccup because there were 2 people missing from their list and 2 people added to the list. The officer wasn't pleased, but he made a call and he expressed that he was going to get yelled at. He called his superior and told them the situation and luckily they let the 2 not on the list come in. And he didn't get yelled at! whew! We went in and there was an auditorium type chapel with a stage. We felt it would be awkward to sit in the audience and then stand up on the stage for each song so we just stood the whole time. My feet and back did NOT like me after that. Something that was really sweet was one of the prisoners came up to our director and he said, "We have prepared a song to share with you." So we cut out a song and they sang "Angels We Have Heard on High" for us. When we got done with our performance they gave us a standing ovation! So sweet! Some of the prisoners mentioned that they looked forward to our group coming every year. The group has been performing for the past 4 years at the prisons. And we are talking of performing for Easter as well. When the prisoners were shaking our hands one of them came up to us and said, "You girls are brave!" And he walked away. He was kind about it, but it was a little creepy at the same time. But again I did not feel any threat from these fellas! They were all very kind to us.
The last prison was the Private Maximum Security prison. I am not sure the difference between Maximum and private maximum prisons? This prison seemed a bit nicer and newer. We were in a tight room with the prisoners and for some reason I wasn't as open in this prison. I have really worked on not looking at my music and actually looking them in the eyes while singing, but at this prison I could not do that as well. I did occasionally, but when sharing my story I just couldn't look at them. Not sure why. I don't feel like I had the connection I would have wanted with my story and them, but it is what it is. I did make a joke and made them laugh. I got up to the podium and it was pretty tall and I said, "Am I tall enough? Can you see me?" I had more time to present my story and even though I had more time I felt like I was stumbling with it. I did so well in the other prisons. Maybe it was because I was tired and had been walking all day and standing a lot? Who knows. This prison they were all still very kind and they had a song they sang for us and with us. It was really cool. When we were done they came and shook our hands and the leaders of our church, that come as volunteers, told us that the prisoners really look forward to us coming and that they ask them at the beginning of December if we are coming. He also said that their Sunday meetings are some of the most spiritual meetings that he has ever attended. They have really worked on bettering themselves for when they get out they can be better people. 2 of the prisoners in this prison had come up to me and the others next to me and one told us that he was getting out in June and how happy his family is. He said that he was supposed to get out after 2 years, but he messed up and I said, "We all do..." And he appreciated me saying that and he said he was put in when he was 20 and was there for 9 years. He didn't say what it was he did, but he didn't need to. He said his brother and parents come visit him and tell him how much they missed him. It was sad :(. Then an older gentleman came up to us and he talked to us for a little bit and then he ended by saying, "Your families are precious." And he looked choked up and walked away! I know that I need to be constantly reminded at how precious my family really is to me! Some days I get really frustrated and want to quit, but looking at these people without their families is really hard. It's sad.
In this experience I looked at the prisoners and thought...why are they here? They are just like you and me, but just got caught in their sins. I looked at the really young prisoners and thought...that could be any of our family members. I thought of my children. I thought of how we are NO better than they are. They just followed through with the natural man in them and acted on it. I am not condoning the things they did to get them there, but we do need to remember they are also loved by God. They are His children. We are His children. And it doesn't matter how bad we are...because Christ was born and died for US and them. He sacrificed so we can repent and be forgiven. We need to forgive those that have wronged us. Because if we hold all that hate in we will destroy ourselves and others around us. I am really glad I was able to be a part of this choir and I am looking forward to the future with this.