Thursday, 18 January 2007

Alpha In Prison (III)

There is another story I will tell you from my prison Alpha ministry; this one more poignant and one I remember with regret and sadness.

I mentioned that the prison was a co-ed institution, so both men and women attended the course on Wednesday nights. One thing we never did was ask why people were there. If the information was volunteered we would listen in sympathy and confidence, but it was never ours to pry into someone’s past who didn’t freely volunteer it. But it was a safe bet that many of the women were there on charges relating to prostitution and street life. One particularly touching case was a very pretty girl whose father was a Pentecostal pastor. I’m sure there was heartbreak in that family. (Already, as I write this, I am convicted of what I just wrote. Forgive me, God, for not remembering that there was heartbreak in every story in that prison). But that’s not who I’m writing about here.

There was one girl in one course who really seemed to be making headway. She was a Native girl who had been involved in prostitution, the drug culture and life on the street. But we could see the change in her every week. She was enthusiastically singing the worship songs, asking sincere questions, contributing avidly during the discussion time, and sure, we all felt, to turn her life around and begin to live for God. I don’t know, I must confess, if she prayed the prayer asking God into her life, because we did not allow men to pray with women, one-on-one and I don’t remember whether the woman on our team ever told me.

One of the things that prison inmates really value is some record of an accomplishment. So for the prison Alpha, for the end of every course, I printed up a “diploma”. It was just a certificate I did on my computer stating that so-and-so had completed the Alpha Course. Prisoners would proudly hang them on their cell wall. They were a source of badly needed self-esteem and a sign that someone recognized them for achieving something. This particular girl was to be released the week before the course ended, and she told me on her last week how sad she was that she would not get the diploma. At the end of the evening we hugged goodbye and prayed for her future life.

Some time later I was helping Ralph, who I wrote about below, get established in his life outside prison. I actually gave him a job, which lasted for a short time. On one occasion I drove him down to the very seedy area of town he used to frequent in his former life. He had to go into a particularly squalid drinking establishment to see a former acquaintance who owed him some money. He went in while I waited in my pickup across the street. When I looked diagonally across the intersection I saw a familiar face. It was the girl who had shown so much promise in our prison Alpha. I waved at her and she came across the street to my truck. Now, let me say that in this area of town there was only one reason any woman would be hanging around a street corner as this girl was. I honestly don’t know if she came over to me because she recognized me or because she thought I was a “customer.” She stumbled up to my truck and said, “Hi” in a slurred voice. Her eyes were glazed by drugs. She leaned against the door and through the open window I could smell the type of strong yet stale alcohol odour that comes from having been drinking for several days. She was sad. She was miserable. She was pitiful. My heart sank. By the time she got close to the truck she recognized me.

Do you know what she asked me? She asked if I had her Alpha certificate! As miserable as she was; as stoned as she was; as far as she had fallen; the most important thing to her at that moment was a certificate affirming that she had completed an Alpha course.

I remember feeling completely dejected. I never saw her again. To my shame, I don’t remember her name. I wouldn’t give it I did. But I pray for her, wherever she is now. Perhaps you would pray too. God knows who she is, and she is in His hands.

Take Care

1 comment:

Marie said...

That is a sad, tragic story. I will pray for her. Wherever she is, I hope God is protecting her and guarding that seedling faith.