“For I was in prison, and ye came to me……”

We’re really proud that Kristine A shared this guest post with us.

IMG_3388It might surprise you to know that after sitting over three decades of church meetings and general conference sermons, the place that I’ve learned most about the importance and sanctity of family was in prison. I’ve been visiting my sister in several county jails and state prisons for the last few years. Without sharing too much of our personal background without her permission, I’ll just share that late last year she was released on probation and after many unfortunate incidents, relapsed and was re-incarcerated.

One weekend last year I accompanied my parents on a four hour drive to visit the state prison and see my sister. There was a line of over a dozen people waiting to enter the razor-edged entrance gates. Once visiting hours began we were buzzed in and we all stood in line to pass through the metal detector. After we’d emptied our pockets of everything but our pocket change (for the vending machines) they asked us to wait in the large community room as they brought the inmates out. Each different visiting family member claimed a five-foot plastic table in the large room and stared expectantly at the door as they waited for their loved one to enter.

I have sat through many sermons and general conference addresses on the family and the importance of love in the home. I haven’t skipped church or classes for any other reason than sickness — and nothing prepared me for the fact that the place I would learn the most about the love of God for His children and the sacred power of families was state prison.

One by one I watched female inmates walk in and invariably collapse into the outstretched arms of a loved one. A few had young children that raced into their arms and squeezed their mommy’s necks. It was as if the rest of us weren’t even there as family members clasped each other and wept with joy. Many of these inmates and families were rough and tumble, not the middle- to upper-class folks we’re used to seeing in our congregations. There were a lot of tattoos, some missing teeth, and one woman had a full bearded face that required her to shave daily. As I witnessed over a dozen families reunite, I wept.

Many who were considered unworthy, worthless outcasts were loved so intensely in such an unconditional way, despite obvious past transgressions. I felt as if I were on holy ground, a little sacred space had opened up and God gave me a glimpse of heaven. I had a distinct impression, “this is the purpose of families.” A family doesn’t have to be Mormon, or a certain shape or size to fill the measure of God’s creation – the purpose of famlies is to find a way to replicate God’s love for us. As difficult as it is to love strangers, acquaintances, and friends; families provide a way for us to love each other and see each other as God does. That moment reminded me of the only redeeming part of my least favorite primary song, “This is how he shares His love, for the family is of God.”

I’ve always liked the parables in Matthew. Especially the beautiful imagery of serving Christ when we serve “the least of these my brethren.” I had never considered that there might be hidden meaning in his commandment to visit prisoners. It was a windy day in a barren Idaho desert that I saw another layer of meaning; that those who I had just witnessed visit the imprisoned had a kind of love that to me, as a professed disciple of Christ, I could only hope to imitate and develop in the rest of my life.

Comments

  1. I am moved and can not breath at the same time. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for writing true religion Kristine.

  3. Paul Brown says:

    Fewer things are more humbling than visiting someone in prison.

  4. Maebridge says:

    Beautiful perspective and imagery that is already haunting me. Maybe it is time to pay a visit.

  5. Laura Stewart says:

    This really moved me. Thank you.

  6. True religion, indeed. This is powerful stuff you have written, Kristine.

  7. Fighting tears. I will also add that I have never felt the spirit stronger than when I was visiting inmates—nor witnessed a deeper level of humility and gratitude. Thanks for this beautiful post, Kristine.

  8. Wow. Beautifully written, Kristine. Thank your for sharing. What a nice way to end my sabbath day.

  9. thank you!

  10. This is VERY GOOD. Many of the people that I work with have been in jail or even inprison. I get so sick of hearing people talk about “Jail birds”, saying “if you can’t do time don’t do the crime”, and generally making harsh judgments about the people that are in/have been in jail. Yes there are some very bad and dangerous people out there who need to be isolated for our protection BUT most people in US jails, especially those in minimum security jails and prisions on drug and minor theft related type charges, are there because of the failures of society just as much if not more than because of any personal failures. And either way they are still dearly beloved children of God and are someone’s family.

  11. Dancer_Esquire says:

    I have had this very same powerful witness and the same realization while visiting a sibling in prison. Thank you for taking me back to that beautiful Saturday afternoon a couple of years ago, and for reminding me of the important things I learned that day.

  12. I have found it deeply distressing to see how the gospel is perverted by the “ideals” of keeping everyone (especially children, safe “from the world.” I have had the experience of having been wrongfully accused of a crime. The case was eventually thrown out by the judge, and the “star witness” was found to have been exaggerating beyond the scope of professional practice.

    What I found is that my siblings who are most active in the church, and most likely to become leaders of their wards/stakes, are the ones who blame me for having had “the appearance of evil” in my life.

    I spent less than 12 hours in jail before my husband posted bail, but I have spent much more time learning who my real friends and family are. I’m all for the idea of eternal families, but I think that many times in the church we teach such conditional love, that I wonder if many will be surprised to find out whose families have been bound together by love into eternal families, who have never spent a Sunday morning in church.

    I think that we, as a church, often spend too much time obsessing over the things that are only superficially loving or caring. I hope that this post will prick our collective conscience, and ask ourselves what we can do, yo be more loving and supportive of those in our family of origin, our ward families, and our families of choice.

  13. My father has repeatedly said that, after decades of serving in bishoprics and stake presidencies, it has been his calling to serve in a prison branch of the church which has changes him spiritually the most–and for the better. What you write here is true, Kristine; thank you.

  14. A Happy Hubby says:

    @ juliathepoet – your comments were icing on the cake of a great blog post! Thanks to Guest and you for your thoughts.

  15. Thank you for this, Kristine. True religion indeed!

  16. Beautiful, Kristine. Thanks so much for sharing this here.

  17. Echidna Wrestler says:

    The scriptures spend lots more time talking about clothing the naked and visiting the sick and imprisoned, than they do talking about hastening the work, following the leader (er… prophet), or when it’s appropriate to “lie for the Lord”. But the Sunday School manual probably skipped those verses.

  18. My husband has taught Church Classes on Sundays for several years. He says it is very rewarding as those who attend really want to learn the gospel and to find out that Jesus does love them and they can repent. His statements have given me a different view of those in prison. Yes, they did commit a crime. And yes, they can still repent and become a better person in spite of what they previously did.

  19. Kristine A, thank you so much for this post. It was a wonderful way to end my Sabbath, and it brought my thoughts back into sharp focus of what it actually means to be a disciple of Christ. May we all strive for it. Thank you.

  20. Thank you everyone for your thoughts and comments. This morning I woke at 6 am to a request that I substitute teach a sixth grade class and didn’t have time to follow the conversation. I’ve learned a lot by having a sibling in prison, I just wish I could remember those lessons every day.

  21. Beautiful post. I’ve been to a couple of prison church meetings when I was in the YSA ward choir, and it was always an incredible experience to sing for them and feel their spirits as children of God.

  22. I used to visit a prison in my ward boundaries to serve the inmates there who wanted an LDS service once a month. It was an eye-opening experience in many, many ways. Thank you for being willing to share your own family’s experiences and your insights.

  23. Nicely done. Always love reading your stuff, Kristine.

  24. True religion. Thank you Kristine.

  25. It’s probably those in prison who need their families (and the rest of us) most of all. Thanks for such a great post.