Archive for January, 2012

Sitting in Cook County Division 11 waiting to visit one of my youth, I looked around and saw so much pain in the faces, words and body posture of those waiting with me to see someone who was in even more pain than we were. I not only saw it, but I felt it in my very spirit and aching heart.

Actually this week was full of pain. I was surrounded by hurting people who have no escape from the pain that engulfs them, pain that has become a comfort zone, that has simply paralyzed them from seeing possibility and opportunity. Sometimes the pain is so great, its like driving on a highway on a foggy day with zero visibility so that you can’t even see the car directly in front of you.

This week alone:

I held a very depressed young man who cried in my arms as he was awaiting his fate for his court case….

I talked on the phone with a beautiful young lady in so much pain she has rebelled against everything she believes in and feels lost in this world…

I had a one sided conversation with someone who is desperately trying to push me away because its the only way he knows how to protects his heart and the world he feels safe in by not letting anyone get too close…

I sat behind a thick prison glass window with a youth who experienced joy in seeing me…but tears when he knew our time was coming to an end…the pain of not being able to hug him – which he has desperately longed for for 9 months….

This week alone, I learned the power of 4 little words that brought tears to at least three of those above situations:

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

There is something about these words that releases the pain being held in the hearts of people. Pain that is being protected like a prison inmate behind bars, like a heirloom in a safety deposit box, like a car alarm on a brand new Benz. Pain is a comfort zone for many people and for many people, its all they know. I see so many young people who truly have accepted, that without pain in their day-to-day life, something is out of order…so they sabotage a perfectly wonderful day or relationship in order to feel “normal.”

But I have seen these four little words allow someone to put down their guard, if only for a minute, allow the pain to be released and become vulnerable – even trusting – in the arms of the one who utters these words of comfort.

There is something about these four little words that brings comfort. In one of Maya Angelou’s poems she states “No one, but no one can make it out here alone.” Even the Word of God says “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  We were not created to be alone but to be in community, to be together. But somehow the enemy has convinced many of us that we are alone.

Telling someone they are not alone reassures them that they are cared for, that someone is concerned about what happens to them and that there is a genuine commitment to walk with them through their pain. It doesn’t mean you have the answer to their problems or a miracle pill to make it better…it simply means “I will not abandon you.”

Tell someone today that they are not alone…

and understand everything that that may mean to a person who has lied to themselves and believes that they are.

Thinking of you….you know who are you…I believe in you, I’m here for you,

I will love you through your pain towards your healing….

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and let us remember the promises of the faithful God we serve:

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. Deuteronomy 31:6 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”  Hebrews 13:5-6  

THE VISITS

Posted: January 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

the visit...does it help or hurt?

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.”  Hebrews 13:3
Every week I spend many of my hours visiting youth who are locked up in a prison facility as they are anxiously awaiting their trials. I prepare my mind to go through a grueling process in order to spend only 15 minutes with my “babies.” The process goes something like this:
  • Drive to Cook County Jail and try to find parking (which you have to pay for) hoping I put enough money in the meter. You NEVER know how long it will take to go through the process of seeing the inmate..and many of us have gotten parking tickets!
  • Then comes the standing in the FIRST line waiting…waiting….waiting….hearing babies crying and screaming, family members complaining, young thugs cursing and saying what they would do it they were locked up, teen girls bragging about what their boyfriend did to get locked up, but many are quiet and brokenhearted. I tend to find myself helping others who have never been through the process and trying to make them feel as comfortable as possible.
  • Then comes the FIRST security check. I have learned to bring only my key (no key chain) with my ID…but they still search you – even run their hands quickly between your breasts to see if you’re hiding something there. I ALWAYS FEEL SO VIOLATED…and I  get extremely mad seeing them frisk babies and children.
  • You go to the Division and wait in another line to give them your inmate’s name, your ID and your relationship to the inmate.
  • Then you sit and wait…this could be anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours…but you wait with other visitors who are agitated by being treated by jail staff  like YOU are the prisoner. No books, no magazines, no music. You just sit and wait.
  • Then they call your name/inmates name and you go through a SECOND search…another pat down, feeling violated again.
  • Then you walk in the visitors rooms, choose a thick glass window (nasty, dirty, germ infested window that hasn’t been cleaned probably ever) and wait for your inmate…knowing you can’t comfort them with an embrace, only with a smile.

M. Santos’ blog shared that this is how he prepares for his visit:

My ritual to prepare for the Saturday morning visit began the night before, when I would lay my pants and shirt carefully beneath my sleeping mat on the concrete platform that served as my bed. The weight of my body through the night would press creases into the drab clothing, and I hoped the effort would make me look sharp. I’d wake early. By knocking out several hundred push ups on the floor of my cell, I could get my blood pumping, swell my muscles, hopefully giving the illusion of strength. I’d take a bird-type bath in my sink, shave closely, then pull on my jail outfit, methodically folding up my sleeves to flaunt what I thought were impressive biceps. Then I sat on the corner of my bed, minimizing movement so as not to wrinkle my clothes, and waited for jailers to escort me to the visiting booth.

Then, you only get 15 minutes for  your visit:

15 minutes to love them…

15 minutes to encourage them…

15 minutes to laugh with them…

15 minutes to listen to them…

15 minutes to give them hope…

15 minutes to let them know they are not alone…

This time together is both exhausting, emotional and important to the ones you are visiting who desire a tender look and a genuine smile. As M. Santos blog states:

Visits in the jail couldn’t alleviate the anxieties I felt, but they helped. Instead of focusing on the seemingly interminable judicial proceedings, I could look forward to the friendly faces and voices; those visits gave me support when I needed it most.

But a friend of mine shared with me, that at times, it does more damage than good. He shared with me how, after these visits, the emotional and physical wear on the body takes hours or days to recover from. Many inmates would immediately go back to the cell and just go to sleep. As M. Santos’ blog states:

 A crushing hangover always followed my time in the visiting booth, but within a few days, I’d welcome the familiar anticipation building while I waited to see my family again. 

It’s a catch 22 but I can’t imagine not spending time with my youth as they sit alone, day-to-day, waiting for a decision that can change their life. The Scripture clearly states to remember those in prison (as if it were you) and visit them. I am always amazed at how God has their attention when they are isolated from their normal lives. It is a beautiful time to let them know of God’s love and hope for their lives (“…For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future…” Jeremiah 29:11).

If you know someone who is locked up, I ask that you consider writing a letter and/or visit them as often as allowed. Wouldn’t you want the same? I am always blessed with my youth’s vulnerability to share their heart, fears and prayers with me when I visit or get a letter…it always brings us closer together and our bond grows tighter.

Yes, God loves the prisoner…so should we.

Thinking of Angel, Alex, Macho, Angel…and others….

FINALLY…

Posted: January 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

After years of doing gang intervention and youth outreach, many of my supporters have begged me to do a blog.

WELL IT IS FINALLY HERE!

I pray God can use this to INSPIRE you, encourage you and remind you that we are in this together! I am humbled to have you as part of my journey…

Not by mightnor by power, but by my spirit”, says the Lord (Zech. 4:6)

The Ultimate Hope Dealer

In every workshop I teach, I show this image and ask: “Tell me what do you SEE in this picture?” Many point out the obvious – a gun, a thug, Jesus, a crossroads. Others see acceptance, compassion, mercy, forgiveness and love.

My next question  is “Tell me what you FEEL.” The audience gets quiet as they get in tune with the not-so-obvious side of themselves. I have had many cry, many not able to find words…and others who share they feel love, shame (on themselves), joy, and hope. Yes, hope.

Every time I see this picture, I am moved…I am moved to great emotion and moved to action. It is a reminder of why I do what I do…and a reminder of my prayer for every kid I encounter: HOPE IN JESUS CHRIST. The hope that anyone can come as they are, that He will not turn you away but embrace, love and forgive you. It’s a picture of hope for the one who thinks He is alone and not worth a second, third or 1 millionth chance. The fact that this image of Jesus is the same skin color as the young man is not a religious, historical fact…but rather a loud statement that YOU are created in His image for a purpose greater than the choices we have made.

A HOPE DEALER sees all of this in this picture and more…

A HOPE DEALER understands that you can’t judge a book by its cover but you also can’t judge a book by its first chapter. Whatever that first chapter is, we need to help youth close that chapter and then begin again! (Father Boyle)

A HOPE DEALER believes in the possibility and potential of every kid, no matter what it looks like… because the Hope Dealer themselves are counting on that same hope.

A HOPE DEALER is willing to go where needed (where most fear to go), do what it takes to be a light in a kid’s darkness. Drug dealers do! So why do we shrink at the thought of reaching out to the same people?

A HOPE DEALER doesn’t just deal hope but walks life with these youth as the hope manifests itself in their heart, mind and path.

But mostly, A HOPE DEALER knows hope and peace can only be found in, through and from God – not in anything we can do or say. Our hope is that we are forgiven, we are loved and we have a purpose that only we can fulfill.

A HOPE DEALER understands that, until a youth is ready, WE are the example of Christ’s chase-them-down-pursuing-them-at-all-costs kind of love.