I’ve heard that the initial sound of that door closing in prison is a horrendous shock to your system. You realize at that point that there you are trapped with no freedoms whatsoever. Obviously you realized it earlier as you had to change into prison uniforms and had a strip search to make sure nothing illegal is brought into the prison. You knew that your voice meant nothing when a prison guard told you in no uncertain terms that you were in his house now. Yet that sudden clang of the prison door communicates more than a thousand words. Here you are trapped within a small cell with your freedoms gone.
Denny McLain -from a star to a number to forgiveness
This prison theme has been on my mind this week. I have finished reading a book by Denny McLain the ex Tiger pitcher titled “I told You I wasn’t Perfect”. Denny was the last pitcher to win 30 games. His fame was like a bright falling star as it reached amazing heights only to plumet to the ground. After baseball Denny got involved with the wrong people in his quest for the next deal for fame and money. He ended up spending years in prison and explains in great detail what it was like. Naturally when you read a book like that you put yourself in his shoes. You think about how awful of a place it wouild be to live in as he describes his experiences. Depending on the crime and the availability prisons come in different forms. Some are overcrowded with very uncomfortable living conditions. He describes the angry inmates that he had to live with. He describes how just trying to use the pay phone was so bad since there was one phone shared by over 100 inmates. He describes the fact that if someone hurts you in some way the worst thing you can do is snitch on them. If someone wanted to kill you they could easily accomplish the feat and the trick was to give them no reason to be angry. He also decribed the prison food and the fact that you never knew the sanitary state of the food. Denny stayed in the really bad prisons and he also stayed in the less strict ones. Either way it was prison and lost freedoms, but at least the minimum security ones were somewhat tolerable.
- You realize you have no rights in prison
This prison theme came back to my mind a couple of days ago with the reality show “Beyond Scared Straight”. It is a program in Douglas County Georgia designed to take at risk teens and give them the prison experience. The teens are heading for a life of crime by their actions and a loved one has requested that they enter the program. The kids are taken to the prison and they actually go through the prison routine. They are checked for any illegal things they are bringing in and then they are given prison uniforms and cuffed. They are forced to listen and obey the prison guard as he commands them and gets in their face if they seem rebellious. They are treated just like they were convicted of a major crime. The prison is actually in lockdown when the teen guests are there. When the guard puts the kids in the cell he makes sure to emphasize the clanging of the door. Once he points out the signifigance of it he lets the sound effects speak to them as he clangs the door shut and leaves for the night.
Click below for the video!
A few of the inmates are allowed to talk to them individually under supervision. One of the episodes that I saw featured a big guy named William that was causing trouble. Because of his size everyone was afraid of William and he could bully kids and cause all kinds of mayhem. He was given the hard facts of life within the prison when one of the prisoners talked to him. It wasn’t a situation of friendliness. The prisoner was angry at him and let him know it! “You think you are a tough man?” , the prisoner shouted. “In here you are nothing!” , he stated again. The prisoner had to be four or five inches taller than William and had a body chiseled with muscles.
- An inmate killer gets Williams attention!
There were two sisters that were in the program together. They were 16 and 14 and their mother was an ex convict who had been released from prison. She didn’t want her girls to have the sad prison experience that she had though they were heading in that direction. She arranged to have them go through the program together. The girls did everything together and their involvement with a gang had a lot to do with the older one leading. The first thing they did at the prison was seperate the girls. The women prisoners had a field day with them in their individual cell visit. They scared them in no uncertain terms as they described the horrible consequences of what they could expect as a new prisoner. They graphically explained the truth of dealing with hard core criminals for a new person. The older one was scolded for leading her younger sister on a path that could end up on the inside with them!
The next day the teens are allowed a visitor. Usually it is a parent who was actually responsible for their entry into the program. Just as if they were a convict the teen has to talk through the glass walls to the person on the other side via a telephone. It was truly heartwrenching seeing true sorrow from the teens. The two sisters were allowed to talk to their mother (who experienced prison), individually and she poured out her love for them. She told them that she knows what it is like in there and that she never wants to see them in there again. There was one teen who was so shook up he poured it out to his parents about how sorry he was and that he would change for the better when he got out. I could tell by his tears of remorse that he truly meant it! The parents at this point have the option of accepting or denying the request of their teen to get released at that time. Some decide that they have truly learned a powerful lesson while at other times it’s decided that more time is needed.
An experience hopefully not repeated for real
A couple of months later the program sends prison officials to follow up on the teens behavior. The teens are interviewed and most of the time they are talking about how their lives have changed after that experience! I was struck by the big bully kid William and his new attitude as they showed him playfully on all fours riding his little year old nephew on his back. The two sisters had quit their gang and had formed a group through their church to uplift their peers attitude and success!
A friend was telling me a story about a phone call they received at work. The person on the other end was upset about something that didn’t get done. When the story was finished the friend told this person how so sorry they were that this had happened. Explaining why it did but also stating again that they were truly sorry. This seemed to totally disarm the would be complainer. The lesson that I learned from the story is that sometimes things happen and it effects other people. If they understand that the other party is truly sorry for the results it creates an understanding. After all who among us has not made mistakes? True sorrow will soften the hardest hearts where arrogance and pride will harden them further.
Probably the saddest part of a life in prison is the people you leave behind. I was watching another reality show where the father went to prison at the age of 24 for crimes he commited while addicted to Heroin. He had three daughters and a son. His son was the oldest and had felt the need and responsibility to be the man of the house as early as six years old. The program dealt with hurt, hate, and all of the emotions of a father who wasn’t there when they needed him. The host asked the young man what was he addicted to? It seemed harmless to me when he said that he was addicted to work. The host made a strong statement that “you don’t have to be in prison physically to be in prison in your mind”. It makes so much sense as Jesus came to set us free! In the end it was up to the family to come to a place of burning the past. They literally took dads prison photos and put them into a burning fire. Forgiveness is not easy, but it is essential in moving ahead. By forgiving others we demonstrate the love of God who is willing to forgive us for our sins.
Denny McClain’s wife Sharon put up with so much in his first stint of prison. A horrible car accident had taken their daughter and Denny was looking for an escape. He bought a company that was headed for bankrupcy and tried to rescue it. To save time he signed some blank documents trusting that his business partners would secure the loan they needed. Instead of borrowing the money it was taken out of the companies penion plan. Denny was sentenced to more jail time and his wife Sharon gave up. She filed for divorce stating “I can’t deal with you anymore”.
Eight years later Denny was out of prison. He and Sharon had still talked as often as Denny could through all of that time. When Denny was close to getting out it was Sharon who drove him to the halfway house where Denny would spend his last few months. After that time they started seeing each other again. Sharon knew that Denny wasn’t perfect but they started to grow closer by the day. One day Denny got down on his hands and knees and begged Sharon to marry him again. ” I promise I will never put you through pain again” , he said. “I may be crazy”, Sharon said with a smile, “but ok!” When someone is truly remorseful it shows. Undoubtedly that is why Sharon was willing to forgive Denny one more time!
When God sees that we are truly sorry for all of the bad we have done, he is also willing to forgive! A remorseful heart leads us into his kingdom. Being truly sorry is taking off the fake mask and letting people see us as we are. When we are broken that is when God can fix us! Sometimes an experience like the Douglas County Prison experience in Georgia can get our attention. It is a bad experience turned good! Much like a sermon I heard years ago that inspired the poem that follows. The sermon was titled “Five Minutes In Hell’ and made the point that if we were allowed to spend five minutes in Hell what changed people we would be when we returned! Much like the teens who experienced prison firsthand. Would we be willing to do what the poem suggests? If so it is our desire to put aside our own interests for the benefit of others who are trapped in their own prisons. With God’s help and our willingness to do his will, the sound of the clanging door in minds everywhere can be silenced substituded by a peaceful freedom only God can give!
If I had Gone To Hell
by Lewis Hamilton
from the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997
If I could spend five minutes in Hell
I’d have a change of view
Old ways of thinking would quickly change
I’d look at all things new
If I could see the torment there
and see the raging flames,
I know my thoughts and actions here
would never be the same
My prayer life would be different
the Word of God I’d know
if on a trip to Hell
for five minutes I did go
Things that seem important now
wouldn’t matter at that time
A trip to Hell for five minutes
would get my priorities back in line
If I saw and felt the anguish there
and gnashing of the teeth,
I’d never wish anyone here
that awful fate to meet
If I hurt for you like I would hurt
If I had been in Hell
I’d make the effort to let you know,
I’d give you a hard sell
Of just how bad it was in there,
a place no one should go
I’d tell you to get right with God
and Jesus come to know
I’d treat my neighbor the right way,
a light I’d truly be
I’d make sure that nobody would
go to Hell because of me
Lord give me a real burden,
get me out of my comfort shell
Let my actions be as if
I had gone to Hell.
He answered, “Then i beg you,
father, send Lazarus to my father’s
house, for I have five brothers.
Let him warn them, so that they
will not also come to this place