I cried in class today.

(Not sure what this is, but I noticed it outside and took a picture of it. It reminds me a little of prison.)

Well, today I did something I don't ever do. I cried during a class. Truly. I sort of burst into a little puddle of tears. The class was Ministry to the Incarcerated and Their Families. It's turning out to be one of the most influencial experiences I have ever had. At the beginning of class today, we debriefed the tour of St. Leonard's (the half-way house) our class went on last week. In my entry last week, I mentioned meeting Charles (went into prison at 16 and is now 40 and has been released).

Anyway, everyone was sharing their reflections. And I felt the emotions bubbling up and decided I wouldn't share unless I got called on. Then my classmates were sharing about how much it meant to them to hear the actual stories of the people who went through the program at St. Leonard's. Then someone mentioned Charles. And the professor, Lori, asked if I had any reflections. I quickly became unable to spit words out and the tears started to flood. And even now as I write this, they come so quickly. The strange thing is, I'm not even exactly sure what makes me so emotional when I think about Charles. There are all sorts of human encounters that are highly meaningful but they don't make me turn into a puddle of salty liquid.

But this encounter with Charles different for me. I can't get his confused, fragile self out of my mind. During class, I spit out a few words, collected myself (as the class discussion went on with everyone giving me kind glances and smiles), and then shared a brief reflection without crying. Basically, I shared that last Thursday was my tipping point. I'd known that there were major problems with the correctional system in the United States, but I'd never really felt "convicted" (ironic word choice, I know) to take action.

In truth, I don't have a master plan for how to change the entire prison system. There are many brilliant people who have all sorts of ideas on how these reforms might take place. My classmates and professor are all much more versed than I am in talking about such things. What I do know is that there are some questions we all need to be asking ourselves as citizens/tax-payers/residents of this country. I'll share with you the questions I've been meditating on lately. I don't think there are specific 'right answers' but I think they are questions we should think about.

*What do you believe is the purpose of prison? (This is a big one and I am still really trying to formulate my answer)
*What do you think about job training, education, and rehabilitation programming for those who are incarcerated? If you are for it, why? If you are against it, why?
*There is a very high rate of people going back to prison after being released. Why do you think this is? How could our correctional system be improved so that this doesn't happen so often?

Charles went into prison as an adolescent for a really stupid mistake that many 16-year-olds would make. And now he's a middle-aged man and he's basically frozen in time without an education. What are his options? What is his responsibility to society? And what is our responsibility to him as a member of society? What is our responsibility to him as people of faith?

Also, let me express: I believe that there are very broken people in the world who have done very terrible acts and need to be in prison and separated from society so that they are no longer a threat to themselves and others. I am not trying to say that there shouldn't be prisons anymore. I'm just saying that this course and this whole Charles thing have me asking three big questions: "What are the goals of putting people in prison?" And "What are the most effective ways to reach those goals?" And "Is the system we have now very effective?"

After class I went to a 2.5 hour workshop on dreams. It was really interesting but I'll save all that for another time. Interestingly, early on in the workshop, the leader shared with the group that he is so thankful for his tears when they come. He said it means that something powerful is going on deep inside. Tears are a gift. It made me feel quite a bit better about my small, public tears.

And I hope all this will make you feel empowered by your own tears, too. God is working in you and in your surroundings. Our Creator is doing amazing things each and every moment of each and every day - all in an effort to bring a world so separated back together.


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