In Jail For The Holidays

On the outskirts of Hudson in southern Columbia County lies a small, county jail. You probably wouldn’t stumble across it unless you were looking for it; it’s tucked back away from the busyness of Route 66 and aside from the standard prison issue razor-wire fence is a rather unexceptional complex. For 12 years now, my father has been going there, leading a Bible study every Tuesday night. He’s had many interesting experiences, and he’s seen a lot of guys come and go.

This past Tuesday he asked me to join him.

Of course, I’m “off” for Christmas, so my initial reaction was no. The inertia of lying around on the couch is hard to overcome! But I reminded myself that life is less about being comfortable and more about making a difference; so I said yes and accompanied him to jail on Tuesday night, guitar in hand, ready to sing.

See, my dad taught the guys there a song I wrote called Immanuel, and he thought they’d enjoy hearing the author of the song sing it. Little did they realize that it would be the other way around: I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it was to hear the song I wrote about God’s grace being sung—and sung enthusiastically—by a group of inmates just days before Christmas.

Going to a Bible study in jail can be a real challenge to your thinking. There are obviously a lot of stereotypes you bring with you, mental assumptions that begin to surface from the first moment you hear the buzz of the door being unlocked for you. Going exactly where the guards tell you, watching the guys file in and size you up—I don’t even need to tell you exactly what some of the thoughts that were racing through my brain were, I’m sure you’re already imagining some of them.

So imagine my surprise when this group of twenty or so guys begin singing praise to God and lifting up their hands. I was humbled: inmates, people I had never met before, began to ask me about my son’s surgery, many of them telling me that they’ve been praying for him for months now. I was amazed: criminals, people accused of some pretty rotten things, praying out loud with more boldness and zeal than most church folks in a Sunday night service and taking an interest in me, someone they’d never even met before. Maybe some of our church congregations should take a field trip…

Don’t get me wrong, these are some needy people; but they had a refreshing honesty, an undisguised frankness that might be mistaken for coarseness. It wasn’t very hard for these guys to understand what the Bible means when it says “you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” These guys understood their need for a Savior and weren’t afraid to admit it. In fact, one of the guys trusted Christ as his Savior that same night.

Then I considered myself: free to go where I want, when I want, unshackled and untethered, yet I take nowhere near as much joy in the reality that my sins are forgiven and my soul is set free? My friends, these things ought not be so.