03 August 2011

The View from the Eighth Floor

Last night I was up on the eighth floor assisting with a Word and Communion Service led by one of the Catholic volunteers. Rudy's partner is recovering from knee replacement surgery and is out of commission for a few weeks.

The eight floor, south wing, houses Medium Security level men in eight dorms, twenty beds to the dorm. Because the multi-purpose room we meet in isn't huge, only three men from each dorm were allowed to come to the service for a total of 24. Twenty men actually came and they were a fairly lively group. I'm up on that floor often during the day to meet with someone who requested a chaplain, so many of the men have seen me at one time or another. There are always a few who haven't and we go through the "Gee you look familiar" and "Did you go to prison any time since 1999?" and the "Oh that's where I know you from!"

When I'm on the floor for visits, I can't see outside, but there are windows in the multi-purpose room and on a beautiful summer night, I looked out the window. It faces east, so the first thing I could see was the freeway that runs right alongside the jail. Just across the freeway, at the edges of some trees, I saw a line of tents. It could have been an outdoor sale for REI, but it wasn't. The tents are occupied by some of the homeless in the city.

I would never see those tents when I'm on the bus or driving the car into work. They sit right above my exit and the concrete wall is too high to see over at that point. Some of the men in the service said they'd camped out in that spot before, when they were on the streets. One of them knew two places to get a hot meal within three blocks of the campsite. There was a brief discussion about the differences between those in the tents and those in the jail. The men agreed there were good things about both places.

Some of the campers were sitting outside their tents, on the grass, looking at a grand summer sun setting over the water and the Olympic mountains. They could see the jail and I'm guessing some of their conversations were along the line of "I've been inside that building. Glad I'm out here. No, I didn't have dinner tonight, but at least I'm in my own tent."

We read next Sunday's readings, Elijah looking for the sign of God's presence, Jesus showing up on the water in the middle of the night. "It's a ghost!" were the words I carried with me. Our prayers were wide enough to include the homeless campers, the drug habit that got interrupted, the family members struggling with broken promises and disappointments.

Who do I see when I look up? And who is looking at me, pondering the possibilities?


claire said...

I join your prayers and questions, Shannon.
Thank you.

Kathleen said...

There are similar tents in my neighbors' back yard right now, for kids and visiting cousins. To think of a life lived in a tent is quite another thing.