Faith Through The Eyes Of A Prisoner
A Window of Hope…
Some say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I, however, have found words to be more clearer than windows. In fact, they are more like a periscope. Using a periscope allows you to see beyond an obstructed field of vision. Words do that. At least in the letters that came from the remotest prisons in Florida to my home in North Carolina.
I want to introduce to you, Jeannie. She is 42 years old and was convicted with a 10 year sentence in the prime of her life. She accepted the punishment for drinking and driving and regretted the injuries to herself and another family to the deepest marrow of her bones. And still does. Her birthday in September is a constant reminder of the horrible accident when a little boy was forever changed.
Since 2009, her words have come into my home sandwiched between junk mail and power bills. Phrases scripted by hand on her prison bunk are some of the most beautiful words; filled with stories, disappointments, tears, and joy.
Interwoven throughout is her undying faithfulness to God. Her words are salve and poetry when I have needed them most. Her words and prayers minister to me. And she has shared with me, truths I have shared with you. Reading them all together from 2009 to the present is different from reading them each month when they arrived as separate entities. Together, they form a story, a life, a message. I spent hours rereading them. The letters have given me a new perspective on her dreams, anxieties, fears, joys and rejections when viewed as a whole.
She often sketched open windows and titled one, “A Window of Hope”. Over the last 7 years, she discovered talents she didn’t know she had; painting, praising & praying, poetry, singing, counseling, fasting, and hoping. She learned that real relationships are based on true friendships and sisterly love. She never had that before in her life outside in the world.
Her story is one of running. Running away as a teen, moving around between America and Puerto Rico and going to numerous schools at a delicate time in her adolescence. She tried to numb pain and ending up numbing everything. In one accident, she almost lost an eye. Believing the scar is a reminder that He saved her life, she writes that the Lord spoke to her, “Then He said, Jeannie, I love you. When will you listen? Now forever you will see in the mirror [my love for you] when you look at your face.” Estranged from her father, she struggled with prayers of restoration; making plans to take care of her dad in his old age when she was released. However, it wasn’t to be. I received a letter in December of 2011. Her dad died before she had the chance. Not even able to say goodbye, I imagine she will grieve all over again when she gets out.
She endured the prison system removing herself from homosexuality, cursing, hardships and the fighting that went a long with it. She did find some peace and solace… In March of 2011:
“I’m grateful everyday. I think how being in this place is the salvation of my life. God did not allow death upon me for His plan and purpose. I thank Him for doing so and being patient with my stubborn self. I would not have received what I have now if not for being in total isolation from the world. I thank every volunteer that taught me His word in both faith based programs and every new friend I have met. I couldn’t change it or regret it. Prison has been the place of wilderness in which God has prepared me for what He desires of me.”
This incarceration has been a chance to take a deep deep breath. A training ground for meeting and depending on God. She has recognized when the enemy would try to steal her joy. I witnessed her fears on paper and prayed for her. I would ‘see’ her pushing through fears, that in the end God had covered the whole time; many ending in a blessing. They say you can tell a person by their fruit. “…For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34 Jeannie’s fruit is God’s own words. I told her once I was praying for a bigger faith and she replied, “Faith comes by the hearing of the word of God.” Romans 10:17 She always seemed to have the right scripture and encouragement.
She prayed that God would keep her usable in 2009. He answered her prayers as she counseled many women inmates in the stories she told me. She even left these impressions on prison personnel and volunteers. March of 2010: “Being empowered by the Holy Spirit is what gives us confidence in Christ.” This she wrote to me in response to my sharing with her some hurts and disappointments. And she has pushed through fears of her own. The anxieties that go along with imprisonment are difficult to wrap your brain around until you are there in her shoes. I cannot fully imagine. I just know I have read her words of hope dashed again and again as she suffered through early releases that didn’t pan out or people who made promises they couldn’t keep.
Some favorite verses that got her through the dark times; He says,
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10-13
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139: 9-10
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Isaiah 58:11
I encouraged her to dream:
- Her mom joked about the restaurant they would have, bragging about her juicy burgers and calling them, “Need a lot of napkins burger”. And she dreams of opening a catering business when free.
- She dreams of counseling young people and teaching and ministering to the lost through the church.
- She dreams of traveling South America, Spain, Greece, and Jerusalem.
- She dreams of drawing, writing, and speaking.
In March of 2010 she wrote: “I knew that I had to come here. It was the only way I was going to get it. I had to come here, this is my place of rest and time to get close to Him. That’s where I am getting prepared, though it is hard to see the day I actually leave here and come to reality, I just know and believe that this will come to be a past. I need this part of my life to live and tell. I was stubborn, hard headed, and rebellious. This is the consequence of sin. Yet! God has turned it all around for good. (Romans 8:28)
In the Spring of 2014, Jeannie began a work release program and the day she leaves ‘will actually come to reality’. Her first steps into freedom have been somewhat terrifying. Imagine how it would feel to leave after being isolated and protected from the world. It is a safe place to worship and trust God behind stone walls. But when the enemy tries her faith in freedom, it may be her hardest trials yet. She hasn’t had anything to call her own in 7 years. Most everything she has had is prison issued or consumable. I remember asking her some of what she missed and it was the simplest of things she thought of; banana and honey sandwiches and being able to open the refrigerator freely for seconds of orange juice.
This is new journey. A journey to freedom. Please pray for Jeannie. I am asking for community to surround and uplift Jeannie with confidence as she begins this new journey in her life. Would you consider prayers to sustain her as you read this? Please pray with me for Jeannie’s strength and faith!
A Prayer for Joy
Help me, O’ God, To listen to what it is that makes my heart glad And to follow where it leads. May joy, not guilt, Your voice, not the voices of others, Your will, not my willfulness, Be the guides that lead me to my vocation. Help me to unearth the passions of my heart That lay buried in my youth. And help me to go over that ground again and again Until I can hold in my hands, Hold and treasure, Your calling on my life.