Today has been just one of those days where I say “God is just too funny”. Today everything due in the next 2 weeks were put into perspective and then my Sociology class and Justice & Peace Studies class were especially frustrating. Also, today is the day we went to service an hour early (at the time it seemed like an extra hour in which I could have spent studying) so that we could share a meal with the people we participate in a weekly Bible study with.
(For this past year, I have been going to CrossOver Prison Ministries on Monday nights. I participate in a Bible study with many people who have been in prison and who are now in work release.)
So, tonight we get there around 6 pm and I have dinner with Brandon, Troy, and Andru, who have just recently started coming to CrossOver. They were open about their experiences in Omaha Correctional Center (OCC) and now in Community Corrections Center-Omaha (CCO) which allows them much more freedom than OCC. They shared their frustrations with the prison system and what gets them through day to day. I asked Brandon, Troy, and Andru what is the one thing I should share with others based on my conversation with them… they said to share that “we are people too”. Troy said “we are people who have made mistakes and are now paying for them”, but they are so much beyond that. My forty minute conversation brought insight into the person that each of them are. Andru wanted me to know the reality of the prison system and he told me that his kids keep him going when things are especially tough. Brandon’s face and eyes lit up when he started talking about his family and his younger sister and he graduated from Missouri Western with a degree in psychology. He talked about how well he and his sister get along but how they can get on each other’s nerves. I know this feeling all too well…
This time I spent talking with Brandon, Troy, and Andru allowed me to completely forget about everything that would eventually need to get done. I was able to be fully present to them and our conversation and to be a witness to their stories. There are stereotypes and stigmas attached to people who have been in prison. They are often feared and seen as rule-breakers and should thus not be trusted. We’ve all broken rules, me absolutely included, and in no way am I any better than they are. I discovered I have more in common with these three men than I do with some of the people that I pass on the mall. Andru is so interested in sociology and we both think it’s a lot more interesting than psychology, or most other subjects for that matter. Troy wants to share the truth and share his experience, and I can definitely attest to that. And Brandon cares for his family so much and wants the best for his younger sister, which I can identify with.
So, now I ask myself “what will I do with this information?” What will I do with the information they’ve shared with me about their experiences in prison? What now? I’ve got some ideas for sure and I will keep you posted on their developments. But for now, please get to know someone beyond what they are experiencing. You would not want to be defined by one decision you made, and neither do Troy, Brandon, or Andru.