So many children marched across the prison yard. All different ages and sizes, from the very tiny brown haired girl whose blue spectacles made her eyes look bigger than all her face to the young bearded man, all of seventeen and pulling up the rear.
The children walked together, little brothers and sisters holding on to each other as Diana, the Prison Fellowship® volunteer, led them through the prison yard. Diana is a licensed counselor. She is also the daughter of an incarcerated parent.
Today the children were headed to the prison's gym where they would meet their incarcerated mothers for a day of fun and memory-making.
A DAY TO REMEMBER
Inside, the incarcerated mothers waited in anticipation to hug their babies. One little boy ran and jumped into his mama's arms, holding on like he'd never let go. Our team of volunteers fought back tears at the sight of families reunited. It was a moment to behold.
One little boy ran and jumped into his mama's arms, holding on like he'd never let go.
The day sped by as we sang silly songs and played games. At one point, we drew upon the children and their moms to act out the story of David and Goliath, pointing to the fact that God helps us face our giants-whether big or small.
As one young, bearded son playing the part of David knelt so as not to overshadow the small girl playing King Saul, his mother smiled proudly. Her son was a committed Christian and he was about to go on his first mission trip.
We sat down to a lunch of hot dogs, chips and cookies. I watched the mothers conversing with their kids, catching up on how school was going, what grandma and grandpa had been up to, and when their child lost his tooth. At one point, I joined Melanie as she shared a cookie with her two small children who told her about how they would spend their summer and dreamed about a camping trip together when she gets out.
ARTS, CRAFTS, AND GAMES
Prison Fellowship volunteers hosted a variety of crafts—from coloring to making fruit loop necklaces to decorating crosses with strips of cloth and buttons. The prisoners were just as absorbed in the crafts as their children—helping their little ones glue on buttons and various fabric pieces, creating masterpieces from the menagerie of remnants—not unlike the seasons of their lives.
Elsewhere, a group of three Prison Fellowship volunteers helped the mothers sign their children up for Angel Tree® Christmas. They wrote notes of love to their babies who would be visited by teams bringing gifts in the name of their incarcerated moms.
Diana noted that one small child who had earlier pointed at a correctional officer and said, "He is bad," was now playing basketball with a correctional officer and hugging him.
BETTER TO GIVE THAN RECEIVE
I sat with one prisoner, Tiffany, and her son, Austin when she asked a question I'd never been asked before by a prisoner. She said "My son here has been served by Angel Tree for the last ten years by churches reaching out to him with Christmas gifts on my behalf. And, as you can see, chaplain, it has served him well since he now has a great relationship with Jesus." Her son smiled and nodded in agreement.
"Well," she continued, "I'm just wondering if there is anything stopping a bunch of us inmates who want to contribute money so other families can be served by Angel Tree, now that our kids are grown up? I mean, could we pool together our money to donate so a group of volunteers on the outside could serve other families with Angel Tree?"
"Is there anything stopping us inmates who want to contribute money so other families can be served by Angel Tree?"
I wanted to hug her but hugs are forbidden in prison.
I wanted to hug her but hugs are forbidden in prison. This woman and her fellow prisoners wanted to contribute the meager wages they earned while working inside the prison. Instead, I told her that her desire to serve others had made my day. I asked permission to share this story and her response was, "Share it all—I want the world to know!"
GOODBYE FOR NOW
When the day closed and mothers tearfully hugged their babies one last time, I also wiped tears as we all walked through the empty yard back to the reception area where grandparents, parents and aunts and uncles waited for their small charges. This little rag-tag band of children, led by one who knew all too well those days of growing up without her daddy, were being watched by the prisoners from windows.
These children were the second victims of crime marching bravely through the yard to an outside world waiting for them as they waited for their parents to return home.
The day was beautiful, inspiring and definitely one to remember—not just for the women and their children, but for every one of us who volunteered that day, making this reunion happen. I shall never forget the question Tiffany posed to me about inmates wanting to give so others might be served by Angel Tree.
And I couldn't help but think, just maybe a new, holy revolution was in the making … and that perhaps, one day, because of the work of Prison Fellowship, Angel Tree, and volunteers like the ones that hosted this day, this country would no longer be known as "the incarceration nation" but "the transformation nation!"
ABOUT MARY ELLEN
Mary Ellen Armbruster is the Colorado and Wyoming field director for Prison Fellowship.