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Behind Bars

by Craig Gross on April 9th, 2010 in The Haps

I have never been to jail. My dad used to visit jails a few times a year with a ministry called Bill Glass when I was a kid. Last Saturday, I went to jail for the first time. We were suppose to go to Folsom Prison back on the Jesus Loves You tour but because of a riot in the prison that trip was canceled.

We met at Denny’s across from the LA County Jail. A few friends and people from the X3team were with me. I did not even know the difference between jail and prison. You are in jail while you are awaiting sentencing. Some people are in jail a few days or a week and some stay as long as 7 years like one of the inmates we met. The LA County Jail is the largest jail in the world. OJ Simpson stayed there as well as Manson and many others.

We met up with Ed at Denny’s. Ed runs a ministry inside the jail. He raises his own funds and works in this jail full time. He is in charge of all the chaplain services. Most every denomination and religious group do something inside the jail throughout the month. I can’t remember exactly but I believe he told me there were 22 services a week inside this jail.

He explained what the day would look like. We were surprised. Surprised to hear about the support that he had received in regards to our programs. Most services get between 15-60 people in attendance. This is mainly due to security. They don’t want large groups of inmates together. The inmates don’t eat together or do much outside their cells. In fact, they only receive 1 hour a week of daylight on the roof of the building.

Ed told us to expect 75 people for each of our two services. He told us the second service would be for a special group of inmates…the 288”s. These are people who have committed sexual crimes against people. They are excluded from the general population because of their own safety. The jail requested our program for them after we spoke to the general population.

We brought two guys with us that live in LA and are asked to continue to do something on a regular basis in the jail. Steven Luff who runs our LA Recovery groups was one of those guys and the sky is the limit on what we can do next.

The first session was amazing. About 150 men in the room all wearing dark blue with a few exceptions in dark brown. They were responsive and engaged and open to what was shared. The second session with the 288’s was one of the most difficult services I have ever done. I was speechless so to speak. I did not think I had the words to say to this group of inmates all in light blue. I showed a video of a friend of mine who I took to jail who is serving time for child porn. We did a question and answer time after the talk and the first question from an inmate was ” I don’t know anything about you… but i doubt you would have any of us over to your house for dinner …would you? Another guy asked us how he could get help when he gets out and told us he cant even go near a church because of him not being able to be around kids. The last question was a guy who just stood up and said, “Can you just pray for us? We got to back in here and you don’t know what that is like. We closed in a prayer for the guys and as they exited almost everyone of them shook our hands on the way out.

Ed told us about one other group that he wanted us to speak to but would have to be at a later time. The homosexuals and transgendered group. There are about 350 of them in the jail currently and they are also separated from the rest of the population for their safety.

Ed is in charge of  22 chapel services a week. Countless number of ministries but not one group does anything for this group. Ed started a “Purpose Driven Life” study for this group and leads that himself.

Sad, even in jail these things exists.

We are working on ideas and next steps not only for LA County Jail but for other places as well. Thanks for your prayers. Please pray for these people.

Romans 3:23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Craig

This is what Steven Luff had to say about the experience:

“The prison experience was deeply profound on so many levels.  To see
society’s solution to crime is both fascinating and troubling.  After
visiting a prison, and the men who are in them, easy answers to societal
problems quickly disappear.  The only answer I can think up is love.  Other
than shaking hands with and even hugging some of the sex-offenders we spoke
with, the most memorable moment of the trip was looking at an inmate who had
drawn his arms into his sleeveless blue jumpsuit to stay warm.  I asked him
whether or not he was given a sweater.  The man scoffed and said, ‘No they
don’t give us sweaters!  This is prison, man!’  These men’s dignity is
stripped from them the moment they walk in (including having to face the
walls as we walked past).  Sure, maybe they deserve their sentences, but it
seems that if we don’t help them and love them while they are behind bars,
once they’re out, there is little chance for reform.”

What do you think? Anyone ever been to jail?

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