A kaleidoscope of scenes whirls through my memory – moments, places, people – locked in a cell for four hours with two life sentence prisoners, sitting on concrete steps in intimate conversation with one woman while the things of earth grew strangely dim around us. Moments of prayer that have changed a woman’s anger into tears of healing, or have broken the hold of darkness and brought the light of Jesus shining in.
Prison seems an unlikely setting for ‘holy moments’ when Jesus’ presence becomes so real that it almost takes your breath away, but “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:38-39 The Message). The setting doesn’t matter in the least; nothing can separate us from the love and the presence of God.
Recently in a small group of women gathered spontaneously in prayer, sharing and worship in a gym, I was overwhelmed with Jesus’ lovely presence and blessed because the Jesus in them ministered so deeply to me. I well know that I do not go to take Jesus into the prison; I simply go to meet him there.
Even solitary confinement cells are no barrier to Jesus’ presence just popping in with his wry sense of humour to convict and convince. I visited some women there and one had been reading the book of James loudly to the other, to carry through the concrete wall between. A discussion followed with both of them about the issue of ‘taming the tongue’.
Both freely admitted that their tongues had put them in their present situation. In a setting where denial of responsibility is the norm, this was a breakthrough. The love of Jesus I felt for those two women in that place was indescribable.
Where have I met Jesus in prison? In the eyes of every seeking soul.
Pat Imhoff is Chaplain to the Brisbane Women’s Prison.
Photo : Prison chaplain Pat Imhoff