As we walked across the open yard of Lino Lakes Correctional Facility in Minnesota, a cold wind whipped by, as one would expect north of the Twin Cities. The yard was isolated and drab, with brown grass showing through a skiff of early-winter snow. Prisoners that stood to the side as we passed were huddled against the wind in their state-issued winter coats and hats.
Our journey through security as we entered the facility was almost as cold. The corrections officers were very courteous, but how welcoming can you make metal detectors, manual searches of handbags, and ultraviolet security stamps on the back of your hand? We handed over our identification, received visitor badges, and filed through the main doors a few at a time. Once inside, we walked through a few corridors, and then across the long, windy yard.
Once across, we entered a separate building that houses the Albert H. Quie InnerChange Freedom Initiative® unit, a values-centered program developed by Prison Fellowship® (PF) and based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Although the security staff is provided by the prison’s personnel office, all other counselors and instructors are employed by PF. While just under 40 percent of the men released from other Minnesota prisons recidivate, only 2.4 percent of those who graduate from the IFI program ever have to come back through that cold sallyport.
As we left the cold wind and entered the Al Quie Building, we were warmly greeted by everyone there: guards, prisoners, staff, and even Al Quie, the former governor of Minnesota and a former board member for Prison Fellowship Ministries®. He joined Chuck Colson and me as we worshipped with 200 prisoners. In a communal atmosphere filled with a sense of the Spirit, these men sang of their love for God and lifted each other up in prayer. The band led us as we sang about salvation, restoration, freedom and grace – concepts that take on a whole new meaning behind the razor wire! One prisoner shared his story of redemption and asked us to pray for his family, that he could seek their forgiveness and be reconciled to them.
Then something happened that left me feeling stunned. A dozen prisoners came up and began to perform a skit about characters with troubled lives. But unlike most actors, who feign to experience what their characters feels, you could see that these guys weren’t acting. They were telling their own stories of personal heartache, addiction, loneliness, gang involvement, drugs, alcohol, violence and death. I was gripped by this intense view into their agonized thoughts, the prison that held them all captive long before they ended up incarcerated!
Then, suddenly, grace entered the scene. An innocent, messianic character stepped in and intervened for the others. The tension and ugliness of all the battles these men fought was removed as they accepted that grace and came in from the cold of sin and all its consequences.
I can’t do the drama justice. Watch it. Click on the link and watch it. Remember, you’ve just come in from the cold and that long walk across the yard …