Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.

Going to Prison ~ Gulp.

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Today I learned I am going to prison.  I was kind of caught off guard because I have been immersed in work this week, and didn’t really expect it to happen so soon.

I got an email a few days ago from Bill, who is involved in prison ministry.  He said he heard from the Deacon that I had finally been approved.  The plan was for Bill to go with me.  But you know God can’t stick to the plan.

Sometimes, I wish He would just humor me.

While I was still letting it sink in that I wasn’t going to get to go with Bill, the Deacon tells me matter-of-factly to meet him on the west side of town behind a bar-b-que joint at 7 a.m. this Sunday so we can go to Florida State Prison in Raiford.

Um, okay. 

He said it would take an hour to get there and we could stop for a biscuit.

Um, hopefully, I won’t be too nervous to keep my biscuit down.  But, yeah, okay.

He said he wasn’t going to sugarcoat it.  This isn’t jail.  This is “the belly of the beast.”

Oh yeah, there is no way I am keeping that biscuit down.

The Deacon told me to wear a dress below my knee or some pants.  No high heels and no open toe shoes.  He didn’t want anyone to have impure thoughts.

Oh my.  I really don’t either. 

I asked him if it was safe.  He said I was safer there than anywhere because of all the security.  He said the only place there are no guards is where we have the service.

This did not ease my concern.

He said only the prisoners with the most privileges can go to service, and they don’t want to jeopardize their privileges.  So no worries there, he encouraged.

Um, well actually, there is a tiny bit of worry. 

Then, he asked me if I felt called to join a prison ministry for women that work at the P Farm.  I told him that I had no idea.  I just want to go to prison.  I don’t have plans beyond prison.  Who does?

He ministers to people on death row and said he would take me over there too.

I thought of the biscuit again.

Then he asked me if I had laid hands on anyone before.  I told him I didn’t understand what he was talking about.  He said, “you know, lay your hands on their heads and pray for them.”

I didn’t know how to tell him, I was taught to keep my hands to myself.  I feebly answered no.

He said they do some laying of hands, but I wouldn’t have to if it makes me uncomfortable.

I am pretty sure everything about this makes me uncomfortable, so what’s a little hand-laying among prisoners and scared girl in closed toe shoes with regurgitated biscuit on her frock.

The Deacon has ministered to prisoners for 14 years.  He said he isn’t any better than they are – he’s just in a better place.

He said the expectation is that God will touch us all.

So, off I go this Sunday with this man I’ve never met to the place no one ever wants to go — to touch and be touched.

At the end of our conversation, he said, “Well, I can tell you are excited.”

Um, excited is not quite the word I would use.

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Author: Lara Patangan

Mercy me, I’ve got work to do… is a blog I started on my 40th birthday to chronicle my experiences spending the year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No longer on the cusp of a new decade, I am still here finding that much work remains – in the world, my community, my relationship with God and perhaps most challenging, within myself. Please sign up and join me as we share the work that matters most – being better people. In hopes that when the decades cease to pass the world will still whisper of the graces left in our wake.

32 thoughts on “Going to Prison ~ Gulp.

  1. Oh, my…I can imagine the thoughts that you haven’t put in this blog…like, what do you say to someone you meet in prison? “Hey, how’s it going? Anything new?” Double gulp. My thoughts and prayers will be with you on Sunday morning, Lara.

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    • Thank you, Kate! Well one of those thoughts has something to do with what time I am going to have to get up Sunday morning to get to the Westside by 7! At least I won’t have to bother with makeup!

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  2. Same here. Good Luck and remember you are never alone.

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    • Thank you for the encouragement. Part of me thinks whatever, there just people like anyone else, and then the other part thinks how angry and jaded they must feel and that does kind of scare me. I hope you will stay tuned!

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  3. I have been mentoring women in prison for a few years. While there are group activities and parties, most of it is one on one meetings. I try to just meet them where they are. I let them share what they choose to share and I share a little about myself without going into specifics. Our teachers are everywhere, including behind prison walls. Wishing you peace!

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    • Thank you, Karen! I love your insight. Your right, our teachers are everywhere and anybody. Thank you for that reminder. I have to say I have met (by phone and email) the most compassionate people who do prison ministry. So you are part of a noble and admired (at least by me) group. 🙂

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  4. Lara, I guess it’s about ten years now visiting the only prison in Fl – Fl State Prison. I prefer visiting cell to cell. And I prefer visiting the inmates in the discipline cells. The Death Row inmates have it made in the shade so to speak. They have been sentenced to die and so in the meantime, they have tv’s, visitations from people from all over the world, etc. The ones I visit have no privileges at all. Some are in cells which have everything stripped out of them. They may be only in their “boxers” for want of a better word. No visitations, no phone calls, nothing. They can’t even flush their toilets. They can be flushed only from the outside. And you can imagine I’m sure that this can be a form of punishment if a guard or visitor won’t flush the toilet. I’m asked often “will you flush for me?” Imagine how humiliating that is!! So you’d think I’d hear a lot of complaints & gripes. Believe it or not not one in all these years. I see lots of smiles & hear lots of ‘thank yous’ for giving up a Sat with family to visit them. I’ll never forget one young man who always greeted me with the widest smile in the world. And that was what he wanted to talk about “Bill, what’s happening in the world?” I loved visiting him. Don’t know what happened to him. Another inmate was treated like trash by the guards & community but he showed me pictures of a Lutheran family in Germany who had adopted him. He was part of their family & he showed me several generations of the family who loved him. He told me also that an elderly nun in New England was praying for him. Lara, these guys are there for the duration (whatever that may be)! When I was sick for a couple of years, I didn’t (couldn’t) visit. When I returned to the prison, there they were in the same places & their only comment was “where have you been?”

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    • Bill,

      I love to hear you talk about your visits to prisons. You make it sound so rewarding and meaningful. You make them sound so likeable and human. You make me feel a tiny bit excited about something I think I am a little bit crazy for doing. You are a good disciple.

      The toilet thing is just horrible and yes, so humiliating. And too, we often forget that they have families and what a gift it is to know someone is praying for you- regardless of where you are.

      Maybe I will just tell them I will pray for them. I have been anyway, since we first talked. I am sad you can’t go with me. I guess its all part of God’s plan. He is doing it so I will trust more I know but I am still kind of annoyed! I am sorry if that freaks anyone out, but trust me, it’s not anything He doesn’t know anyway.

      Anytime you want to comment here about your visits to prison Bill, know you are always welcome. Your enthusiasm and compassion is contagious.

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      • You know I would love to be with you Sun. You will do well. I’m involved in Kairos (Cursillo for prisons) at Baker Correctional Institute . What we emphasize is “Listen , listen, love, love” These men have no-one to listen to & have not been loved unconditionally (agape love) ever!!!

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  5. I love what you say about God not being able to stick to the plan. Isn’t that the truth! By the way, i never knew bare toes were provocative. Learn something new every day. I’ll be praying for you.

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    • Connie, Trust me I don’t think toes are provocative — at least mine. But I will tell you there is a whole blog site dedicated to them, so apparently they do appeal to some people! You know how time-consuming keeping up a blog is – I can’t imagine the motivation necessary to keep it up on toes 🙂 Thanks for the prayers!

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  6. You are soo courageous! I will also be thinking of you and praying for you on Sunday.

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    • Thank you Mary. I appreciate that. I am not courageous, but doing it anyway! The Deacon said that people ask him sometimes after prison visits if he saved anybody and he says he doesn’t have to – he just has to show up. I like that attitude. So I am just going to show up and whatever happens from there…

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  7. You will have lots of prayers and love with you Sunday – as you do every day. There ARE teachers everywhere – and you have taught so many of us with your heartfelt blog. I know I will stay tuned….

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    • Thank you Jeannette. I appreciate the prayers that does give me comfort (a work of mercy you know). I have to figure out what I am going to wear!

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      • Reminds me that when I was a Franciscan Friar (many moons ago) I volunteered always to conduct tours of our holy mountain (60 miles from NYC). . If a woman was wearing shorts, I had to escort her to our clothing room where she could find a skirt that fit. Not always easy, believe me! I was always so embarassed to have to do that , but in the process I met so many good friends whom I corresponded with & visited for years!

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  8. I am looking forward to reading about your adventure in prison! So impressed with the journey you are on!

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    • Thanks Kelly. I love that you are willing to follow me on my journey. But we all have one, mine isn’t anymore impressive. I am just sharing it– which actually makes it more humble than impressive when you think of all the embarrassing things I share! But I love your kind words!

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  9. Wow! Amazing courage and bravery. As we know from Glennon, life is brutiful and you are going to see it in a way so few have. Good luck and know you have a huge amount of love and support behind you. You are doing very hard things!

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    • Thanks Shelly! I wrote this in another comment but I want to make sure you know because it reminded me of you and Glennon 🙂 The Deacon said that people often ask him after prison visits if he saved anyone. He said I just tell them that’s not my job. All I have to do is show up! How cool is that?! He is 79 years old and wise enough to know that we just have to show up for one another!

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  10. Many prayers your way Sunday. I am so drawn to your posts on this issue. A beloved cousin of mine has been facing some demons over the past several years and just this past summer was sentenced to prison for 10 years for drug related charges. I never really thought much about prison or the people there or their families until now. I look forward to reading about your experience. God bless you!

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    • Unfortunately when an individual is sentenced to prison, the whole family is affected. One of my dear friends (an inmate) lost his son in a horrible car accident. He was granted permission to attend the funeral but his ex-wife said “no” and so he was not able to go. Several of us represented him at the service. I have been working with one inmate for a number of years now. He was so depressed, low self-esteem, pretty broken when I first met him. He was going through a divorce. He was concerned about his kids, etc. He’s a different person now – self-confident, positive, optimistic. He’s getting out the end of this month. His mother wants me over for dinner!

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    • Thank you Rose (I know that’s not your name, but your blog site is very pretty so that’s what I decided I would call you!) I am sorry about your cousin. I really am. Drugs are a complicated mess and it somehow doesn’t seem right to put addicts in prison. But I know too that they hurt a lot of people when they commit crimes to support their habits. It’s just very sad. 10 years is a long time 😦 hopefully he will get clean and healthy in his body and heart. I am going to pray for him. You should tell him that he has people praying for him. It might make him feel like he’s worth more.

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  11. You will certainly be blessed with all your good deeds. This is very special.. Love Phyllis Parola

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  12. I guess you would rather go to prison than run with me this Sunday ? How about being a running partner to a middle-aged momma that needs to run to be a better momma.

    I know this is important to you. You can do this. Please don’t give anyone your full name though. And email me the minute you finish so that I know you are ok.

    Sent from my iPhone

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    • Ha! Alexa, that is a tough call — running or prison?! Hmm. I think you would win believe it or not! You are sweet to worry about me. If I could figure out how in my non=technological brain to post on the road, I would send everyone a quick message. Okay no names, and I will message you when I leave. I wonder what we will eat on the way home!

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      • I’ve been going to prison ten years or so & I don’t believe any of the inmates know my last name. I’m just “Bill.” And don’t worry about e-mail. They have no access!

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