Chapel Behind the Wire
by Shirley Tracy
I had never been inside a prison before, and I must confess I was somewhat
uneasy about the whole thing. On Sunday, October 19, 1997, my husband and
I boarded one of two chartered busses, along with seventy-two other members
of the Promise Choir and Orchestra from Bay Presbyterian Church. Our
destination was the WomenÕs Correctional Facility at Marysville,
We were scheduled to give a concert there as part of the choir's outreach
ministry.The busses pulled out at exactly 1:30 P.M. We settled back in
our seats; it was close to a three hour ride. As we all laughed and talked
and enjoyed the colorful foliage, I began to feel more at ease. Several
of my friends have been richly blessed by their involvement in prison ministry.
The Lord was offering me an opportunity to serve Him and to reach out
to help someone else. Most of all I kept thinking of JesusÕ words
when He said, "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you
did for one of the east of these brothers of mine, you did for me."(Matthew
Shortly before five P.M. our bus pulled up to the prison. We took note
of the high, double fence and three strands of razor wire. My uneasiness
returned. What could I give to these women with whom I had nothing in common?
What did I know of their feelings or their pain?
We signed in at the reception area and waited for further instructions.
The prison staff soon ushered us through a metal detector and stamped our
hands. Then, they divided us intosmall groups and escorted us through a
door into a courtyard. All around us were buildings,a mix of old and new.
We noticed in particular the baseball diamond and Flowers lining the
walk leading to the chapel.Inside the chapel, we sat in padded seats waiting
for some of our men to finish setting up the risers and the sound equipment.
Except for the padded seats and the concrete blocks, who would have thought
we were inside a prison surrounded by barbed wire?
We could have been in any chapel anywhere. A large banner hung up front,
and additional banners were scattered along the side walls. the platform
was much like any other.
We were greeted by the prison chaplain, who thanked us for coming. When
it was time to warm up, we took our places
on the risers and focused on Marcia Stuckert, our director.
As the women began filing into the room to take their seats, my apprehension
was changing to curiosity. I wondered about each of them. Where had they
come from? Why were they in prison? And why had they come to hear us sing?
From the beginning, the women were open and receptive. To my surprise,
they laughed and cried and shared a wonderful time with us, clapping with
our contemporary gospel music and raising their hands to praise God. While
some may simply have been entertained, many were truly joining in worship,
and I felt the Holy Spirit moving through that place. Those women sitting
on the rows of padded seats may have been prisoners, but they were also
my sisters. Whatever they had done, it was not so great that God could
not forgive them. And we had more in common than I had understood. Without
being given any background, I realized that, like me, some were mothers;
some were daughters; some were wives; all were human beings, each having
a soul. They needed encouragement. Once again, God was teaching me more
about His awesome love.
When we had given our final remarks and sung our last song, I was as
sad to leave as the women who had come to hear us.
Hungry for our music and God's message, they were quite vocal about
not wanting us to go, and they begged us to return soon.
There were too many of us to be allowed to mingle with the prisoners
after the concert. We remained on the risers while six or eight representativesfrom
our group stood in the outer hallway to greet them as they went out.
The ground rules had been announced to us ahead of time. No hugs. Handshakes
were acceptable. No exchanging any sort of information. If asked, we could
give them our first names. I was not one of the volunteer greeters, but
I wanted to rush out among the women and hug each one of them. Instead,
I smiled from where I stood and called out a friendly "good-bye" as they
were dismissed, one small group at a time.
It was nearly eight o'clock when we gathered in groups of five to be
escorted out the same way we had come in, through the courtyard to the
reception building. We signed out and showed our stamped hands before exiting
through the doors leading to the outside. Reboarding the busses, we passed
around snacks and cheeredthe Cleveland Indians on to victory in game number
two of the World Series.
Our lives would go on as usual; yet, none of us would forget the women
we left at Marysville. I can still hear their voices begging us to sing
another song, voices that seemed to be pleading for reassurance that God
still loved them.