I try not to get angry. I try to keep my voice down. I try so hard not to sound defensive.
It happens every year at this time. Just check through the blogs. I write a similar column every Christmas season, it seems.
It all begins when I visit our neighborhood supermarket, where a friendly volunteer braves all kinds of weather to ring a bell for the Salvation Army. I thank him every day, and I put money in his bucket every day. I love the Sally Ann.
But my cause is prisoners, and that cause is not popular. I’m watching the holiday, seasonal and year-end appeals---many of them quite emotional. An old rule-of-thumb when preparing Christmas appeals for donations is to tug on heart-strings if you want to open purse-strings. Many agencies do it to perfection!
I’ve just finished the first draft of the HFP monthly newsletter for January. It’s going to be completely different. It will shock the consultants who are telling us how to raise funds. It won’t be colorful, it won’t tell “heart-string” stories, and it won’t be filled with testimonials. It’ll contain actual letters and messages from prisoners who struggle with a multitude of issues and have nowhere else to turn. Stark realism…the stuff we deal with every day.
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not downplaying the many, many wonderful causes that need and deserve our support. It just so happens that within 10 miles of my desk, where I sit writing this blog, there are a couple thousand men behind bars whose only reminder that it is Christmas time will be a calendar. There’ll be no cards. No gifts. Not even a visit. That's where my heart is this season of the year...and all year.
I think I recently came out at the short end of a discussion with a former donor, because I couldn’t show product. I couldn’t show specific results of money invested. Father Greg Boyle talks about this very subject in his book TATOOS ON THE HEART, because his work with gangs is not that much different than our work with prisoners. In both situations it’s not easy to provide statistical results. After relating stories like we’ll be doing in the January newsletter, Father Boyle said this: “If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than other lives.”
I was heartened in recent days by the contributions of two people who realize that ALL lives matter. The wife of a prisoner, a single mom who struggles with budget problems, sent in three $5 bills. And an actual Michigan prisoner, who probably earns $8 a week, sent in a year-end gift of $7.00.
Jesus watched a poor lady drop two coins in the gift box and said this: “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; 4 for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”