Spreading Like Dandelion Seeds

The first time I went to prison I was a bit nervous and intimidated.  I was scheduled to be going in with a friend but she was sick and not able to come at the last minute.  I had prepared for going in with background checks and an orientation about how to handle difficult situations and what not to do while inside. But as I entered for the first time, I felt fear and uncertainty. To get in, I had to go through the metal detector, get my ID badge slipped to me from behind bullet proof glass, wait while one large steel door opened and I met my escort and my hand was stamped with invisible ink.  Once inside this door, I was given a small device to wear on my person that had a panic button in case something happened in the classroom and I needed help. Then another steel door opened and we were in the prison yard.  It was a former agricultural college so it had a nice grassy yard but I was to learn only select inmates made it out there to do lawn work.  It was surrounded by tall fences topped by barbed wire.  I was there for the first time to teach a class on spiritual development at the Waseca Federal Women’s Prison. What I did not know was how much I would learn while I was there.

When I entered the classroom, where my colleague had already been teaching for 3 months while we waited for my approval to go through, I was uncertain what to expect.  I had counted on my colleague being there to take the lead and I would just sit and observe. But God, as usual, had a sense of humor and I was alone.  Eight women in gray prison scrubs and soft slippers came in, somewhat sullenly.  The lesson for that day was on victim impact statements, where the person in prison was invited to reflect on how their crime had affected the person they wronged, their loved ones, their community and themselves.  I did not know what to expect.

What followed was a true revelation of God’s work in the darkest of places.  After I had taught the class a few times, I came to understand that the victim impact exercise was one of the hardest parts of the course. And one of the ones most resisted by many participants.  But this group had bonded and built trust with each other and had been well prepared by the curriculum and my colleague.  I was amazed and touched that they included that trust to me.  And I was impressed with how many of them had plans for their future.

But I was to learn over time that those plans were easily derailed by all the barriers faced by people re-entering society from a time of incarceration. Barriers to jobs, housing and family reunification.  Some state and federal prisons do offer some job training and education but most people leaving county jails have no assistance at all. People leave incarceration with the clothes they came in with, $100 and a bus voucher to get somewhere.  Unless there are people on the outside ready to help them, they are alone in trying to find jobs and housing.  Those released on probation often have to go to halfway houses and are given some assistance with jobs but more often there are few employers who will hire people with a criminal record.

We in the church are called to care for those in need.  Not just because it is good for the individual we help but because it is good for the whole community.  After doing inside prison ministry for 6 years and feeling the helplessness of not being able to offer assistance when people, who had changed hearts and minds, left incarceration, I spent the last two years visiting and studying places in the US that have combined intentional Christian community – choosing to live by a rule of faith life together – with social entrepreneurship – creating sustainable businesses that train and employ people who struggle to find jobs. And I would like to share what I have learned with you – in the local church, in women’s or men’s groups, in civic community groups.  As Christians and as citizens longing for a better world, we are called to reach out to people in transition and offer hope and help.  Please call Rev. Cindy Kennedy at 612-239-0247 or email at clkdancer55@gmail.com.  If you want to know more about me and my journey, please visit www.rubbermeetsroad207.wordpress.com or on Facebook at Rubber Meets Road. https://www.facebook.com/Rubber-Meets-Road-267804906965334/?ref=bookmarksTHURSDAY_LifeInMinistry_PurpleSeeds (1)

Throwing It Out There

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Have you ever felt like you are walking along a road, maybe thinking or talking with someone, in the grove of what you are doing but maybe not looking around much… and suddenly, you realize you don’t know where you are?  The landmarks are gone, the direction is unclear.  It’s not getting dark or scary so it is not time to panic but you are just… lost.  You can see how you got here but you can’t see where to go next. You can look immediately in front of you and know what must be done but it doesn’t seem a way forward, just a way to circle around where you already are.  There is no reference point for you to use as a compass.  What do you do now?

In my case, I am still circling.  Not frantic yet but getting a bit dizzy.  I am waiting.  I have made some decisions and am doing the tasks of my life but I still need more to move forward.  I am waiting for information about two or three things.  I still need to finish my work for the grant I received to do this study that has given me this time of prayer and reflection.  I will be reviewing my work here on this blog and reading notes from all the interviews I did last spring and summer.  Even beginning that process starts to slow the circling and help me so both backwards and forwards, I hope.  I am scared tho about what this next phase will be and mean.  I trust that God has put me here and will use me but, oh boy, I am starting to see what I gave up to come here and take this journey.  I have been so focused on the present and the future, that I did not allow time to grieve what I miss about being in Minnesota, with friends and partners in ministry there.  I think I can feel the grief now that I have decided not to go back… to stay in Texas and try to find my place here.  I cannot imagine putting that much distance between me and my family again, though I realize if I stay here, I need to build my life more fully.  Have my own friends, my own dreams and goals.. that has all been put aside as I have embraced being part of a family again.  But the community calls.  My desire for time with friends is great.  And I need to really listen this month

As the New Year begins, I ask your prayers on my discernment.  I feel I have lived in a state of ‘almost change’ for so long that the thought of making a permanent commitment here scared the you know what out of me.  So please keep me in prayer.  Let me hear your story, as my friends, of how you have coped with taking a true leap of faith that scared  you silly.  Let me hear from you so I don’t feel so alone out here.  For I know God intents us to lift each other up in community and sometimes the tools are these blog pages, social media sites or text messages even when what I really long for is a face to face visit over coffee. So I am putting it out there… I want to hear from you.  You are my assets in the world, even if we are miles apart.  Blessings on you all this New and Exciting Year.