There are a lot of brilliant people in our prisons, but their hearts are not healthy. Their spirits have been broken.
The words of Grand Rapids public school principal Ruth Jones, who received the Hattie Beverly Education Award some years ago for turning around a failing inner city school. In trying to explain her formula, she said, “Everybody wants me to pass out a handbook and say, ‘Here’s the model you should use.’ But the bottom line under it all is love.”
Her words were sticking with me as I listened to Fr. Greg Boyle’s Ted Talk on YouTube. If you haven’t heard it yet, pry 20 minutes out of your schedule and make that happen. The author of TATTOOS OF THE HEART and founder of Homeboy Industries made the same point.
All of this so strongly underscores the importance of our interaction with prisoners.
But first let me address that first point by Mrs. Jones. As a pianist, organist and choir director, I am meeting and chatting with prison musicians who are far more skilled and far more talented than I could ever hope to be. As I writer, I am blown away by the penned words of some inmates. As an experienced public speaker, I couldn’t touch the abilities of some of the orators whom I heard in the SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS program! Our prisons are full of talented, gifted people who have their own personal struggles.
As HFP continues to experience record-breaking growth, some reorganization must come with our anticipated expansion. Perhaps we won’t be writing a handbook, but we must try to set out specific guidelines for handling the huge variety of in-house issues that we face daily in such categories as physical health, mental health, and injustice. Our advisory panel of nearly 50 professional people play an important role. But I go back to our slogan which explains our work better than anything: Action with Compassion!
Jesus said he was giving a new commandment: “Love one another…”
There’s no handbook to show how Mrs. Jones turned around that inner city school, or to show how Fr. Boyle turns around the lives of gang members, or to show how HFP touches lives. It’s simply caring, simply trying. It’s love.
A prisoner roundly chastised me the other day, rejecting my advice and doing his best to get rid of me. I had to patiently explain to him that he could drop me, but I’m not a fair-weather friend. He’s stuck with me.
St. Paul had it right: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.