I did not want to go to the prison this morning. It was just one of those days. I woke up already tired, the other chaplain who normally comes with me, Katy, was not available to join me today due to sickness, and lately I’ve only been seeing one woman on Friday. (The others are all working now on Friday mornings or have been released.) It was hard for me to find motivation to go as it hardly seemed worth the effort. But I went because I knew that the women would expect it.
I left the house a little later than usual and panicked that I might not get there on time. But it turns out that traffic this morning was AWESOME and I ended up arriving 20 minutes early. As I was preparing to go in, I thought, “This morning might be pretty quick… but hey, then I can go grab a coffee nearby and read a book for a short while afterwards so that would actually be kind of nice.” Hahahahaha… oh what silly things we think sometimes.
As Katy wasn’t with me today, I decided to see one of my regulars plus two of hers. I expected just to say a little “coucou” (hello, hey there, howdy) to them and let them know that Katy wasn’t there, but we were thinking about them and all that jazz. I expected it would take my normal hour and a half… maybe even less.
But no. I was there for almost three hours.
Now, three hours may not seem like that much… but in the prison chaplaincy world it’s a LOT. Usually just the hour and a half makes me exhausted. Today, when I finally left the prison, I went to a bakery to read and drink coffee. Instead I just ended up drinking coffee and essentially staring at a wall for 45 minutes.
This morning was a lot to process. Prison chaplaincy is hard.
I saw three women – one English speaker and two French speakers. I’m just now getting to the point where I can do chaplaincy work in French. It took me a while to get up to that point as chaplaincy work is almost ALL active listening and so it’s very important that you’re at a place in your language skills where you are able to understand and respond appropriately. I’m still much better in English, but the French is manageable for me most of the time.
All three women were dealing with different issues, but there seemed to be two prominent themes today – health and motherhood. Both very profound, deep, and oftentimes troubling issues for a prisoner. The last woman I met with today sat with me for an hour, crying over several concerns like missing her family (particularly her children), struggling immensely with what she had done to find herself in prison, and coming to terms with harsh realities like a long-term prison sentence.
In that conversation I also came face to face with yet another story of someone making a mistake in a split second that ends up ruining their lives. They can’t take it back. They can only deal with the consequences and sometimes they’re very, very severe. I am not saying that everyone in prison is lovely and kind and good… but I am saying that there are some lovely, kind, and good people who find themselves in prison… and sometimes it’s for very long periods of time. In cases like those, I struggle with the purpose and utility of prison. I think I will be processing that for a long time.
It was a rough morning.
Finally, I will say that even though I did not want to go today… I showed up. I think sometimes that’s all we have to do and then God does the rest. Sometimes we don’t have the strength or the endurance to do more than that, but God fills in the gaps. This ended up being one of my holiest and hardest days in the prison. A morning filled with sadness and blessing and anger and joy. And with all the good and the bad… I’m so very humbled and glad that it is my privilege to serve in this capacity for this time.
I know that this entry has likely been ramble-y and scattered… but it’s definitely how my brain is functioning today. Today is one of those days where there is simply too much to process and so my mind is going in every which direction as I think through what happened this morning as well as the big questions continue to resonate in my mind. Sometimes being a chaplain is hard. Sometimes being a missionary is hard. And sometimes being both is beyond ridiculous. But I am grateful for it, and it makes me interested/excited to see what God has in store for me beyond Guadeloupe.