I spent an Easter weekend in prison. Not a lily, new hat or pair of patent leather shoes in sight. No chocolate, no marshmallow chicks, no turkey dinners. There was nothing familiar about this particular Easter weekend. Endless country roads, bunker housing, large gates, a guard tower, the dogs, barbed wire with large razor blades. All ominous and yet strangely fitting for a gray and drizzly Good Friday. Although the prisoner named Jesus was an innocent man, my urge to be metaphorical was strong. I have based my entire existence on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and that all who believe will do the same. Perhaps some prisoners would be encouraged to hear His story. The prospect of speaking with the inmates face to face was somewhat intimidating. I took a long, deep breath before walking through the visitor’s gate.
Prison Fellowship (the ministry which forced me to leave my happy life on Long Island so I could be a supportive wife when Frank heard God’s call), has created a powerful initiative called “Starting Line.” In short, it’s an all-out-evangelical-blitz of the prison population within a particular state. The 18-month preparation period and detailed logistics are mind-boggling. When all of the official, administrative and financial details are set, a team arrives for several days. The team consists of music artists, athletes, comedians and inspirational speakers. They hold a rally in a different prison each day for almost a week and then another team flies in and continues until every prison in the state has been visited. The inmates are entertained and edified. Hundreds of Bibles are distributed. Locally trained volunteers come to the rally nearest their home and commit to do follow-up. Starting Line has helped prisoners enter in the most important race of their lives.
The programs I attended took place in South Carolina. The team I ministered with visited women’s prisons in and around Columbia. Frank and the kids drove me to the airport and as I kissed them all goodbye, I was mindful about the vastly different world I would soon be entering voluntarily and exiting gladly. I said my good-byes. “I love you soooooo much! Don’t forget to pray for me. Mommy is going to tell some ladies about Jesus. Save me some Easter goodies–I’ll see you in a few days.”
They drove off and I teared up. Italians don’t even eat out Easter weekend, let alone visit prisoners. The relatives just didn’t understand.