Mission New Found Freedom was a volunteer mission group that went to Giddings State School twice a month, every other Tuesday. This is an all boys high security prison that accepts boys up until the age of 19 . When the boys reach the age of 19, they are either released or if their crime permitted a longer time, they were sent to another facility.
On a normal Sunday morning I walked into church and noticed multiple exhibitions along the outside of the sanctuary. I was curious of what they were all about, but it was too much going on for a Sunday morning, so I headed to find my seat instead. When the pastor came out, he explained what all those tables were for. Each table was a different way to volunteer and give back. There were so many options. He mentioned possibilities such as, schools, homeless shelters, retirement centers, food drives, and finally, Mission New Found Freedom. My pastor went on to explain that the mission group only had a couple people involved and could use more volunteers. He did express the risk involved and the environment that he was asking people to sign up for.
Walking out of church that afternoon, I walked right by the table and decided to pick up a flyer. Why not right? The flyer had the basic information, when, where, what to expect.
I don’t know what I was thinking, but I volunteered and was in the car on my way to Giddings State Prison. Reality of what I chose to do didn’t set in until we pulled up to the gates of the prison and all I saw were tall wire fences everywhere.
At check in, the protocol was to sign a volunteer slip, turn in some kind of id, body search, and then a search of belongings. Not thinking anything of it, I had loose pieces of paper and a pencil in my Bible holder. The guard confiscated them and said “those are usually a problem.”
Sweaty palms and a very nervous stomach, thinking I watched too many prison movies and shows, we loaded up on a bus and headed to the jail cell housing.
The jail had the housing numbered 1 through 12. The boys were assigned to a numbered house based on what crime they committed and their behavior while being there. House 1 was the highest security and house 12 was the lowest security. I was assigned to jail house 9. I was thankful.
Before we walked into the jail, the mission group prayed together. We prayed for our safety. We prayed that our time with the boys would be beneficial and shine a light on their day and possibly in their lives. After saying “Amen,” I prayed on my own. I asked for the nerves that I felt to rest and for God to use me in any way possible.
Walking into the jail room, all the boys were out of their cells. Some were reading at a table, some were watching television, others were throwing a small bouncy ball back in forth, and a couple were standing around talking. They looked so young. The boys had so much innocence to them. This was not what I was expecting to observe when I walked in.
The lead in my group asked openly if anyone who wanted to join us for an hour or so to talk to follow. Out of the 15 or so boys that were in this house, maybe 3 or 4 came. This was my first time, so my thoughts going in were to observe, listen, and learn. I asked my lead prior to walking in if there was an agenda, a plan. (It’s the teacher side of me, I’m used to having a lesson plan!) He laughed and said “No.” Every time they go, they feel out the energy and go based off what they are feeling.
We sat in a circle and the lead opened up with a Bible verse. I don’t know how he did it, but he got those boys to really speak up. One boy in particular shared his story and his path of getting to where he was now. They talked about God, about their interests, what they are going to do after their time at Giddings. If I’m being honest, I don’t think I said one word that night. I didn’t want to speak unless I truly felt the urge to. That night I felt my place was to just be there, be present.
Over the next couple months I became more comfortable going and really looked forward to it. The changing point was on a particular Tuesday when I got in the car and my pastor was there. The mission group always decided on the drive up who was being paired up with who and what house number each of us would be going to. On this particular day, my pastor said it would just be me and him and we’re going to house number 2. House number 2! All of the same feelings and nerves from my first time came back. I hadn’t gone to a lower house than 7 at this point.
After I gave him a blank stare, he went on to say “and you’re going to lead.”
The drive to the jail took about two hours and I don’t think I said but maybe a couple words the first hour. I was flipping through my Bible trying to plan. What was I going to say? How would I start this off? Do I just copy what I have seen other leaders do? What verse is appropriate? My thoughts were going more than 100 miles per hour. Eventually, my pastor told me to breathe, to stop planning, and that I would know exactly what to do when I got there.
At this point in my life, I was in no way polished in the word of God. I was not, still not, one of those people that had the verses memorized and I didn’t feel like I was equipped with the knowledge or experience to lead a discussion. When I asked my pastor if I could continue to just follow, he responded that I was ready. I addressed my concerns and his response has stuck with me ever since.
No one’s ever ready. He admitted sometimes he doesn’t even feel like he’s completely ready every time he goes to preach. The most important factor in this mission work is that the group cares. He said when you care about people, you don’t have to be the expert. The boys appreciate your time and the positivity you bring.
I was placed in that position for a reason. I had all the tools within me that I needed to do this.
Pulling up to house number 2, he fist pumps me on the shoulder and says, “alright kid here we go!”
……To be continued