I got back into prison this week. It had been six months since my last visit. The new warden required an overhaul of all volunteer gate clearance procedure. Bureaucratic nightmare is the appropriate shorthand for sixty four page questionnaire, FBI fingerprint check, and photo badge appointment. The immediate result of the game change is an extreme drop off of community liaisons so the volunteer programs; AA, NA, adult reading classes, and chapel services, nearly came to a standstill.
There’s nothing like mounds of paperwork and administrative sloggery to try one’s patience, test one’s faith, and question one’s sanity. Walking the warden’s halls was somehow more eerie than crossing the yard. Cubicles, offices stacked with moving boxes, the painted footsteps on the floor to direct traffic, I felt like the odd bee out in a very busy hive.
The staff was courteous to a fault and the chip of being inconvenienced I walked in with slipped off my shoulder with each hand shake and greeting. My old records were brought up, some eyebrows and smiles went up at my five year attendance, and after just another 45 minute wait for the ID printer to boot, I was cleared to bring the Gospel of Peace to Pelican Bay State Penitentiary for the next three years. The insight that nearly floored me was the realization that I was indeed carrying the Gospel whether I stood along a pulpit, or waited, calmly, across the reception lobby. My favorite St. Francis of Assisi quote rang true as it ever had, “Every where I go I preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but only when necessary do I Speak.”
These days, when politics has polluted some much of our spiritual purpose, it was particularly invigorating to sense the Love He first had for us is a quality that extends from person to person. I wasn’t just being dealt with by the staff, I was being cared for, intimately. No one asked for a theology update from me. I wasn’t grilled about abortion rights, same sex marriage, or gun control. My reason for being there was laid bare, visit the incarcerated and remind them they are not forgotten, for God so loved the world that he sent volunteers to wade through files as if we are being called, out of the boat, to walk on water.