Dan Rooks, clinical psychologist from Holland who chairs the board of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS had never been in a state prison. Today he would accompany me in a precedent-setting meeting where some Michigan prisoners had invited HFP to explain its purposes and its functions.
What would he think? Would his enthusiasm for our purpose remain, or grow? Or would he leave in disgust, thinking this is a worthless cause and prisoners are a worthless bunch?
If decisions were based on first impressions, I might not have stayed!
From the prison staff:
“That's the building where they house the level 5 and level 6 prisoners. Most of them are crazy! It's being converted into a facility for mentally ill prisoners. About 500 of the 700 are crazy, and they're dangerous!”
“That's the segregation building. We call that 'the hole,' and it's where inmates go for punishment. They spend 24 hours a day locked in their cells!”
As we walked across the large courtyard in mid-day, we could see all of the buildings where pain, misery and evil were contained. The silence was eerie. No sounds, in the hub of a thousand prisoners! But our fears, suspicions and doubts were cast aside when we walked into the auditorium. The emcee was saying, “These men took a Saturday afternoon of their personal time to come here and meet with us. Let's give them a welcome!” Applause and cheers!
In the next hour and a half
Among their messages to us:
Will you help us in preparing commutation and parole application forms?
Can you find more educational programs for us, on specific topics? I'm thinking of finances. Many of these men are going to be freed, and some have never even written a check!”
Among our messages to them:
We love you, we are in your corner all the way, we are not double agents!
We do everything to help and support you, in the name of Christ!
Prisoner Big Ben's final statement on behalf of some 40 attentive and kind prisoners in the auditorium: “We can't let this organization go down. We've heard stories that PLS has closed for lack of funds, AFSC is experiencing financial difficulties...we can buy books from Doug, there may be other ways we can help financially. Let's keep HFP going!”
Before we left, prisoners lined both sides of the auditorium for the opportunity to shake our hands, give us hugs, share tears and comments, and thank us for being there.
It was an amazing experience for Dan and me!
Dan will stay!
God was there.