01 October 2012

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

I only Googled "jail shoes" on a whim. Why then was I surprised to find this among the images that resulted? I laughed. "They'll never believe me," I thought.

"They" of course are the people I see at the county jail, the ones wearing red shirts and pants and orange socks. It's not an outfit anyone would choose to wear (though the number of images that come up when you Google "jail outfit" might lead you to think otherwise). 

At any rate, I was thinking about their shoes. Rose and I were finishing up a prayer service, sitting in a tight circle with eight men. It had already been a note-worthy service. We are mostly there to accompany the men in their prayer for one another. We'd listened to the readings and reflected on them together, prayed some general prayers for a variety of things (think of those General Intercessions at Sunday Mass). There'd been a few giggles during that portion. One prayer was labeled "for those with addictions" and the man who read it said he was stressing out about going to court with a drug conviction because he was looking at considerable time in prison over his addictions, and wasn't it clear that God chose this prayer for him to read?

The group grunted understanding, said, "It figures, bro," and we went on.

Except we couldn't go on. That same young man was called out of our circle, so he left.

Prayer continued. We blessed one another with holy water, a reminder of the freedom that Baptism promises us, and then we prayed. Joe said he wanted prayer for his family. Dan prayed for Joe. Then Dan wanted prayer for his girlfriend who'd stopped answering the phone three weeks ago. Doug prayed for Dan. Doug said his mom was in the hospital and Jesse prayed for her. Jesse wondered out loud how his wife and kids were going to have enough to eat since he wasn't home and it was the end of the month. 

Around and around the circle we went. Each man said what it was that needed prayer and the man next to him gave voice to the prayer. We all said "Amen."

And then our drug addicted friend came back to the circle looking stunned. 

"I just talked to my lawyer," he said. "I'm not going to prison. I'm going to treatment." He sat down hard. "It's because you prayed." There was a moment of awe.

Down the hall, I could hear the sounds of shift change. We needed to conclude. We pulled the circle in tighter and that's when I really noticed the shoes.

I tapped Tom on my left and said, "Would you put one of your shoes in the middle here?" He did.

"This shoe represents every person in this circle, in each dorm, on this floor, and on every floor of the jail today. And this shoe," Tom added his other shoe, "is for every officer on shift now, and coming on shift soon." Jim put a shoe into the circle and we prayed for all the other staff who keep the jail running;
     --for the officers on the street;
     --for their lawyers, and the prosecutors, and the judges;
     --for their families who counted on them;
     --for the people who'd given up on them;
     --for the communities they'd frightened or put on edge;
     --for people who make laws motivated by fear or need to control;
     --for those in prison around the world;
     --for those on death row.

We piled up the prayers as we piled up the shoes. Then we extended our hands and asked God to bless all that the shoes represented.

Leaving that place, every shoe is a reminder of the prayer that surrounds and carries us. Every step is a prayer, especially when we have no words and don't know how to pray. Even plastic shoes can be a sign of God's lavish mercy and boundless care.

And tonight I think of a praying pilgrim named Claire who will set out for the Camino in Spain soon. Claire, pray for us. We pray for you as you continue The Way. You can follow Claire's journey here.


Sherry Peyton said...

Shannon you amaze me with your sweet reflections that so touch me. It is hard not to become hard in the environment in which you operate. Yet you maintain the soft clear loving message of Christ so beautifully. May God continue to bless you and those who receive your ministry. We are all in this together.

AnneDroid said...

Great to read this. Thanks for the encouragement that prayer works in prison too. :)