It was a rather strange and unique scene at one of Michigan’s prisons in Jackson yesterday. There sat an old white man, wearing a Christian clerical collar, beside an aging black man in prison blues, a practicing Buddhist. The occasion was a video session with a member of the Michigan Parole Board. I was making the case for a parole for this man, who has now served 25 years behind bars.
First, I should explain how I came to know this prisoner.
“Hey Mix, take a picture of us.”
I was in the visiting room of the Thumb Correctional Facility many years ago, visiting my dear friend Maurice Carter. In those days, if you purchased a ticket for a couple bucks, you could have a photographer take a picture with you and your friend, standing against a wall at the end of the room where a mural had been posted. Maurice always enjoyed having our picture taken.
Mr. Mix was another old-timer in the prison system, and he was in charge of the Polaroid Camera. He was always polite, but seldom uttered a word. One day, as I was leaving, he stepped up, shook my hand, and thanked me for what I was doing on behalf of Maurice.
I forgot all about that kind gesture for years, and then, while waking up one morning, I got to wondering. I wondered if Mix was still in prison, and I wondered if he’d still remember me. I checked the inmate listings…he was a lifer, and still there. I sent him an email and a letter, thanking him for those kind words years ago. And I sent him a copy of the book SWEET FREEDOM, which tells the Maurice Carter story.
And thus my friendship with Mr. Mix gained momentum. We remained in contact over the years, and recently we learned that he was getting his first meeting with a member of the Michigan Parole Board. He would become eligible for parole this spring.
The inmate, now 62, has a grown daughter in Detroit, and four grandchildren he has never seen. He’s a good man, and deserves to get a fresh start. Even though he was permitted to have a representative for the Parole Board interview, no friends or family members were available. I would be there.
I explained to the Parole Board member that, at age 79, I don’t get up very early on a winter morning and make a two-hour drive in the dark just for the fun of it. I was there to support a release for the inmate, and I believed he needed a second chance.
I suppose there are those in the Christian community who question this style of witnessing. No Bible study, no prayers together.
Mr. Mix simply threw his arms around me and thanked me for this act of kindness. A prayer for the success of this meeting came later, in my car.
I think Maurice was pleased.
I think Jesus was, too.