To imprison a woman is to remove her voice from the world, but many women have been silenced long before the transport van carries them from the courthouse to the correctional facility. The statistics are alarming: seventy percent of incarcerated women have been victims of incest and sexual abuse. Some have landed in prison for single acts of violence committed after years-lifetimes, in many cases-of horrific and predatory abuses. Others were incarcerated for having numbed the pain and become addicted in the process.
My personal experience in prison was life-changing. I was told when to rise, what to wear, when to shower; when I could use the bathroom, when to eat, when to use the telephone, and when to go to bed. I might share an 8 X 10 cell with someone who was violent, vindictive, or mentally unstable. But, when I looked past the violence, degradation and mental instability what I saw underneath the misery was some of the most compassionate acts of kindness. My cell could be searched by officers at any time for an unstated reason, my personal belongings dumped onto the floor or seized. My mail could be read, censored, or confiscated. An institutional lockdown could abort my classes, my workday or a planned visit with family or friends. If the visit goes on as planned, my interactions with my family and/or friends were monitored by corrections officers and surveillance cameras. After my visitors left, I was obliged to a strip search, during which my vaginal and anal cavities might be examined for contraband. There are justifiable reasons for all the above. A maximum-security prison must be safe guarded for the good inmates, staff, and general public. And yes, it's true I was blessed with religious services, some educational and vocational opportunities and a library. But, the fact is, it is not fun to be in prison, and the person who likens it to a country club is either ignorant or cynical.
Prisoners, like everyone else on this earth, are in the process of changing. They are in the process of becoming more wounded or growing, learning and healing both spiritually and personally. When we look beyond our pre-judgments and see the potential for growth and healing in others, we have to let go of our static images and assume a more responsible attitude to the way we treat that person or group. Seeing prisoners as people-in-process challenges us as a society to respond to prisoners in a more humane and intelligent way. Quite honestly, some of the most thoughtful, mature, compassionate people I have ever met are people in prison doing life and long-term sentences. Some have murdered. They have committed their crimes many years ago and have used their time to grapple with their actions, the impact of their actions, their feelings and their profound and appropriate guilt and remorse. Out of a difficult past, they have recreated themselves as humans of great depth and compassion.
There is a healthy potential and creative power in them that we need in our society. But first, inmates need to be guided, as we all need to be guided, beyond the psychic prison of misguided judgments, limiting definitions and closed hearts to see the tremendous human potential lying dormant within them. Only then will they be able to recognize and choose positive, constructive, healing options. I am confident that if Christians work together with patience, openness and courage to bring the Word of God, inspiration and healing programs, educational books and videos to prisons that inmates will find that prisons can and will be a place of healing. Christian based programs will help prisoners experience God's unconditional love, salvation, forgiveness, power, peace and eternal life. When Christians work together to display God's love, the Gospel will shine more brightly and attract more people to Jesus-the Light of the world.
Becoming a part of the healing community at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Virginia as a missionary/inmate and having the opportunity to serve Christ and others was a genuine life-changing experience. I was blessed to be a part of a group where, amid the chaos and insanity, I heard some of the most heartfelt, insightful, and sincere testimonies to the devastation that addiction, abuse and mental instability inflicts on individuals and their families. I am grateful for this experience and to help others go through the healing process.
Many people, praying for this ministry and volunteering their help, enable us to reach incarcerated women and men in prisons, jails, and detention centers. We are grateful for the support given by those who share our mission and enable us to reach inmates with the life-changing experience of God's love, mercy and perfect forgiveness.
In Christian Love,
Janett Little-Edge, Founder/Director Missionaries of Grace Ministries