Charles: a lesson in hope

I frequently feel inspired by people for a variety of reasons: wit, creativity, determination, intelligence, uniqueness. This afternoon I met a man who has caused me to feel much more than inspired. And more than in awe. And more than uplifted.

Today I met a man named Charles Green. And he has left me quite speechless. Interestingly, in the course of the few hours he spent with my Ministry to the Incarcerated and Their Families class, he didn't say more than a few words. But every time he did open his mouth, I was captivated. Here's a little summary about Charles.

24 years ago he was convicted of a crime he quite probably did not commit (he was 16 at the time). But it took a few decades to prove his innocence. He spent those years in prison. He is now 40 and has been released. Here's a link to the full story: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-charles-green-releasedfeb21,0,2894336.story

Regardless of any of that, the reason Charles was hanging out with our class today was because he was released from prison only a few weeks ago and is now investigating ways to reclaim his life. We visited a place called St. Leonard's today and Charles wanted to visit, too, so he came along. He's friends with the professor of the class who worked with him while he was at Stateville Correctional center.

St. Leonards (the place we visited today) is a transitional housing/educational/ministry center. Really, really fantastic. I've never been in an environment quite like it. We heard stories from lots of people who went through the program there and are now staff members. It was a wonderful model of restoration and rehabilitation. Here's a link to St. Leonards: http://slministries.org/

Charles spoke with our class for just a little bit after our tour of St. Leonards. But he didn't want to talk much about the past. He wanted to talk about the future. His faith was so clear that it shook me to my very core and has left me a little wobbly all day. I was sitting on the opposite side of the room as Charles, and I felt my worldview and perspectives on life and hope and right and wrong shifting each time I looked at him across the tables. Our professor (a chaplain at Stateville Correctional Facility) asked Charles if there was anything he wanted to tell a room full of future pastors. He said, "People need positive people in their lives. It makes a difference." Amen. The last few sentences of that article in the Chicago Tribune about his release are also very powerful. He states:

"God has his reasons, and he was working his plans out," Green said. "Once he moved whatever obstacles might have been in the way, he made it happen."

Regardless of how one might feel about Charles' beliefs or theology or past, I am so captured by his ability to create a new reality for himself that is centered on moving forward. He was 16- years-old when he entered prison. He is now a 40-year-old man. This is a life transition that I can't quite imagine. But he will do it one day at a time. And I'm sure he'd appreciate a few extra prayers of encouragment.

There are amazing people in our midst every single day. And they have stories more powerful and meaningful than any of the stupid programs I watch on television. In fact, I'd have to say, EVERYONE is an amazing person in our midst. Everyone is filled with stories. Not all these individuals end up in the pages of the Chicago Tribune, but they all hold value beyond our wildest imaginations. I guess that's what I was re-convicted of today: The beauty and complexity of humanity is something that will fascinate me to the point of speechlessness forever and ever.

My Creative Everyday projects are 3 new pages for the "Quotes: 2009" journal.