My first summer at the prison, I walked out to one of the units to check on someone. The units are all one-story concrete and rebar ugly buildings, painted with a god-awful not quite teal trim. (Someone got a GREAT deal back in the 70s, I'm convinced.) Walking up the sidewalk, you can't see into the cells because the windows are covered with decorative brick, but those inside can see out.
So I was on my merry way, looking at the scenery (not much) and rehearsing in my head who it was I needed to see. Suddenly, I heard a long wolf whistle followed by, "Yo, Mama! Where you been all my life?"
Another voice scolded, "Shut up! That's the chaplain!"
A chastised voice replied, "Sorry, ma'am." I tried not to laugh.
Lately I've had to tell far too many people that someone is sick and in the hospital, or that someone has died. I can't just go and hang out in any of the units because as soon as I show up, the word goes out, "Uh oh. The chaplain's here. Who died?"
As a chaplain, I've heard a lot of stories, many of them beginning with, "I didn't do what I'm in here for." It's not my job to judge the truth of that. I have to go with the fact that everyone here either agreed to a plea or was convicted of a crime. We go forward from there.
But I hear all sorts of stories: about a man molested and raped by his camp counselor when he was ten; about the guy who attacked the man who had raped his daughter; about the family that seems to have moved and left no forwarding address. Those stories go on and on.
And then there are the good stories: pictures of a new baby or grandbaby; celebrating a GED--the first success with schoolwork in more than 15 years; getting two brothers together who hadn't seen each other in more than four years (and one of them said, "I haven't been to the chapel in all the time I've been here. Why did I come in here today?"); the man getting interviewed by a team of people who are willing to help him restart his life in society.
I hear confessions of all sorts, get asked marriage advice, give Prison 101 talks at least six times a week, and get to accompany people on their journey to discover who is God now that everything has fallen apart.
I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Though I must admit, I could use a good wolf whistle now and then.