Saturday, February 28, 2015

On prisoners, and saying "Thanks!"

My mother taught me a valuable lesson, and she did it by modeling.  She always took time to say “thank you.”  And she didn’t do it in some trite manner, as if it were an after-thought.  She took the time to send a note of thanks on pretty note paper.  She dropped off a freshly-baked coffee cake.  She made a personal visit.  Her expressions of gratitude were genuine.

In my devotions, I love reading the gospels…I like the Jesus stories.  I’m totally amazed that, even though crowds swarmed around him begging for healing, he never got sick of it.  Never sent them away saying he’d done enough healing that day.  And then there came the ten lepers.  Only one of them returned to say, “Thank you.”

HFP Board Chairman Dan Rooks and I got another “prison fix” this week, and it reminded me of some of those Bible stories.  150 men in the room, all of them with needs, all of them wanting help.  But here’s the thing that really touched me:  They first expressed thanks!

It was a meeting of the National Lifers Association chapter in Muskegon Correctional Facility.  I was to give an overview of HFP and the assistance that we attempt to offer, and Dan, a clinical psychologist, was to discuss anger management.  After our presentation, the floor microphones were turned on and the men were allowed to ask questions.

For me, there were all kinds of needs:  help for a prisoner who is dying, help getting medical care, help in filling out commutation application forms, help getting fresh air in a prison unit, help in pursuing an alleged wrongful conviction.  The list went on and on.  And for Dan, more assistance in working with anger management behind bars.  Insisted one inmate, hoping to persuade Dan to come back for a workshop:  "We need it here!"

But here’s the thing.  Every man, before seeking help, expressed thanks!  Thanks for helping brother Maurice Carter.  Thanks for writing your book. Your appearance tonight was a God-send!  Thanks just for caring.  Thanks for taking of your personal time to come here.  And the words and demonstrations of gratitude continued until the moment we walked out of the prison auditorium.  Frequent bursts of applause.  People waiting in line just to shake the hand of a caring individual.  Bear hugs from old friends.  Tears.  Laughter.  Promises for the future.

It was a prison fix that Dan and I desperately needed.  HFP is in serious financial trouble.  In my dark moments, it feels like we’re sinking.  It gets difficult to see the sun for all the dark clouds.

And then, in a single hour-and-a-half session, I realize that shutting down isn’t an option.  And for that message, it’s time for me to say to our hundreds and thousands of friends behind bars:  Thank you!

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say 'thank you?'



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