Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done
“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
-Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
Bryan Stevenson reminds us of the truth that we are so much more than the worst decision we have ever made. In his case, Bryan is working with people on death row and in our context we are walking alongside youth experiencing homelessness, but the reality is still true. Youth we see each day carry shame and guilt because of decisions they have made. What we seek to offer at Cup of Cool Water is a ministry of presence. We walk with the youth who walk through our doors into the drop-in center, or who we see on outreach, knowing their stories and loving them in the midst of it.
One thing we do at Cup is remain in contact with youth when they are in jail or prison. We make it a regular practice to check the Spokane county inmate roster. We send letters to people we know and if we can, we make time for an in person visit. If you haven’t been to the county jail, it is certainly something you need to experience. I’ll walk you through it. In order to see someone in the jail, you need to be on a list of approved visitors. For me to visit, I need to send the person a letter and make sure to include my first and last name as well as my birthday. Once I am on the list, I need to schedule a time to visit. On the day of the visit, I need to show up 15 minutes early, get a token for the lockers in the lobby and put my phone, keys and wallet into the locker. All I have at that moment is the key to the locker. As a person living in 2020, it is a strange feeling to not have a phone for an hour during the visit.
Once it is time for the visit, everyone goes through a metal detector over to an elevator. I am grateful that there are usually other visitors, because it feels a bit unnerving walking into that elevator with no identifying markers on it other than the buttons indicating which floor you are going to. When you get to the floor where the visit will take place, you walk either east or west to the tiny room where the visit will take place. You open a door and sit in a chair. There is a desk/counter/thing with an unbelievable amount of names and obscenities carved into it; some of it is honestly pretty impressive. Plexiglas separates me from the person I am visiting and you have to speak into a box on the wall, making it difficult to communicate. We have up to an hour for the visit.
The whole experience is overwhelming. It leaves you feeling vulnerable and exposed. Most people I have visited with don’t get visits from other people. Bridges have been burnt or in some cases, family would like to visit, but because communication is so infrequent, they may not know that their son is in jail.
I remember one person I visited was having a spiritual breakthrough. He was praying constantly, he had read the whole New Testament and he was writing raps about it all. In that booth he rapped for me about the struggles he has been through, but how grateful he is about it all because that is what it took for God to get his attention. I don’t pretend to have any real ability to evaluate the quality of rap, but I was amazed by this young man and his ability to articulate his experience with such raw emotion and intelligence. I found myself choked up. We talked about Jesus, about some questions he had about the Bible and what it means to listen to God. It was incredible.
At Cup of Cool Water, we are a ministry of presence. We build healthy relationships with youth and we want them to know that we see them as God does, loved and precious, full of value. That doesn’t end if that person has committed a felony.