It was a religious experience! That’s the only way I can describe it. And there were only five people in attendance.
Let me explain.
As a full-time advocate for prisoners, I savor the opportunity to witness that rare occasion when an inmate steps into the free world. My friend Joe Evans was due to be released from prison after 39 years behind bars. He has been serving a life sentence for a dastardly crime committed in his youth while high on drugs and alcohol. Now, he’s a changed man.
Sensing that this might be a very special occasion, I invited videographer Dirk Wierenga to join with me. Dirk is producing a professional documentary about the work and the mission of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS. We were not disappointed.
The location for this little program was 3100 Cooper Street, Jackson, Michigan…right at the front door of the Cooper Street Correctional Facility.
Joe is 61 now…his elderly mom and his cousin, who served as their driver, were on hand from the Detroit area to pick him up and take him home.
The prelude for this service is a discussion with a corrections officer at the front desk, who doesn’t have any idea what the inmate’s name is…he just knows his ID number. And his main concern is that Dirk isn't carrying any telephone or photography equipment into the prison. Other than that, he has little interest in the proceedings.
And then Part One of the ceremony: Joe is warmly welcomed by his mother and his cousin.
Part Two (the one I particularly enjoy!): Doug Tjapkes holds open the front door of the prison, as this dear man who spent two thirds of his life in prison, takes his first steps into freedom.
Part Three (which even tops Part Two!): Joe puts down his footlocker containing all of his earthly possessions, and throws his arms around Doug, tears streaming down his face. The bear hug seems to last forever. There’s really no rush. Words of thanks and gratitude and love.
Part Four: When that hug is completed, Joe’s mother is next in line for a hugging session with Doug.
Part Five: Joe is eloquent in this thanks to HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS for our part in helping him to obtain this parole. For the past five years we have been communicating, providing materials when necessary, holding his hand during health problems, speaking on his behalf in a Public Hearing, and finally welcoming him into society. “HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS is like the Red Cross for us in there,” says Joe. “You are there to help when there’s no one else.”
Part Six: Sweet departure, as Joe and his little family leave Jackson for home, a home-cooked meal, and a good-night’s sleep in a soft bed with lights out and sound turned off.
Said Dirk: “It was a special day…one I will never forget!”
Back to my opening statement: It was a religious experience! No hymns were sung, there was no sermon, the only prayers uttered were silent ones, and the congregation totaled 5.
Jesus was there.