29 November 2009

Things You Don't Hear in the Parish Church

"Let's offer each other a sign of peace. No bruising!"

"And behold, the angels appeared, praising God and saying---MOVEMENT! MOVEMENT!"

(In the midst of some equisite quiet one evening) "Pill line!"

"No bruising?" I can see your head shaking from here. "What does that mean??"

The second service of my Sunday is held in the dining room of a unit that houses a number of gang members, Surenos to be exact. The other unit having a service at the same time houses Nortenos--but most of them have gone to gym.

The brotherhood of the gang is thick and at the Kiss of Peace, there are handshakes, hugs, and the Thumping of the Back. Thus the admonishment, "No bruising!"

Of course there are things I don't hear in my prison parish:
--cell phones ringing
--kids
--announcements about coffee and doughnuts available in the social hall

In both places, the deep hunger for belonging and connection exists. We are not so different.

28 November 2009

Hurry up and get here already!

I'm not one for patient waiting. It's not that I lack patience. Mostly I lack the ability to remember just what I'm waiting for. Life gets in the way. Things happen. I get distracted.

Right before Thanksgiving, I got a letter in the mail from Seattle University. Inside was a copy of the question I was asking in the fall of 2008 as I began a program in Pastoral Leadership. I read through it, wondered about the woman I was back then, and went on to the rest of the mail. The question: "What am I really hungering for?" Later that morphed into, "What if God isn't?" It wasn't a crisis of faith, just a question that had to be out on the table, under consideration.

You know my answer? Eh!

There were grieving people to comfort. There were celebrations with guys who passed a section of their GED. There were families to find. There were conspiracies and grade-school drama all year long. There was a job situation that ended up being so strange I'm still befuddled. Bottom line: there's still the rumbling activity of the Divine afoot in the world and I've got work to do.

Advent in prison--where waiting is an art form unto itself.

Some people sit in county jail, waiting to go to court. If convicted, they wait to be sentenced. Then they get sent to our place.

Once they arrive here, more waiting. At least everyone here has been convicted, or agreed to a plea. (I'm not saying everyone is actually guilty, but when they get off the bus, it's because there are orders from a judge back in the county saying the state has to take responsibility for them.)

Now a new kind of waiting: waiting to get tested and classified, waiting for the physical and dental exams, waiting for the psych eval and the school assessment. If he's in Unit 1 or 3, he's waiting to go to Unit 4 or 5. Waiting for mail. Waiting for a visit. Then waiting for an actual contact visit, but that has to wait til he's in another unit. Waiting for his access code to the phones. Waiting for the delivery from inmate store. Waiting for the Saturday movie, for the rain to stop so he can go to yard, for someone to get off the phone so he can try again to reach the phone that doesn't accept collect calls.

Mostly waiting to go to another institution, to get out of the grey or orange jumpsuits.

The holidays roll around and waiting gets physical. Fights happen more often, vicious words get said.

In church we talk about the reign of God and all anyone wants is a key to the front gate. Please.

It's easy to forget what we're waiting for. Too easy.

I don't believe in waiting for the reign of God. I think Jesus was right. It's already here. Maybe God's just waiting for me to notice.

07 November 2009

The Temptations Abound

I don't know if it's a result of working in prison or just the warped sense of humor I have, but the greatest temptation is look at my work and see blog titles.

For instance, Tuesday's gem was "Two Days, Three Dead Grandmas."

Not funny at all, especially to the three men who lost a grandmother in those two days, but the juxtaposition of events, and their similarities... my brain just went in that direction. It's partly a defense mechanism. Work with several people in crisis situations within a close period of time and the connections are blazingly clear some days. The twisted humor is one way to stay at arm's length from my own memories.

Breaking the news to a man that his grandmother has died does several things. First, there is the concern about how he'll take the news. Was he close to his grandma? Did she raise him when his parents wouldn't or couldn't? Did she support him through thick and thin or did she finally draw a line and tell him enough was enough? Were they estranged for years, but he'd written her a letter recently, pledging to remake his life so she'd be proud of him? Will he try to staunch the tears with his jumpsuit or will he get mad and start throwing things?

Meanwhile, the chaplain brain goes in several directions: memories of my own grandparents and the circumstances of their deaths, the imminence of death in general, the precariousness of life and how it intrudes on people living in prison who didn't imagine that death would touch them here. The practical questions rise up: was the death in state? Will he want to go to the funeral? Will the family want him there or will there be problems? Who is his counselor so I can get the paperwork started? Who is the unit supervisor so I can call with an update as soon as the man leaves my office?

Multi-tasking happens. It has to. I place the tissue box within reach without being obtrusive. I take notes as I listen to the conversation. I look up information on the computer and begin to draft a letter with death and funeral details to go to the counselor.

I try to extricate my own experiences from the front of my mouth and I just shut up. I ask a few questions when he is off the phone. I invite him to write his grandmother's name in the Book of Memories I keep on my desk.

And there are times, like last Tuesday, when my mind goes down that road and thinks, "Two Days, Three Dead Grandmothers. What a great title for a blog post." I whack myself up the side of the head and get back to the business of chaplaincy.

It's always a good marker for me, a sign on the road that I need to do something not related to prison work so that my perspective is more broad, a sign that I'm a bit too enmeshed in work that I love. If I'm seeing blog titles and not the people in front of me, it's time for me to do some soul-searching and brain-cleaning.

Or I need a good laugh.