Finding Hope in the Grace of a Prison Visitation

I’ve written before about how someone I care deeply about is locked behind the walls and the concertina wire of prison. (You can read about that here)

While visiting with him this weekend, grace tapped on my shoulder.


At this facility, visitation (after the stringent security search, the full-body pat down, and the K-9 sniff test for the visitors, and the complete strip search for the inmate) means hugs and kisses upon arrival and departure, and it means cherishing the opportunity to sit in the presence of your loved ones (it’s worth every bit of inconvenience). There were aging parents visiting their sons, tired moms with toddlers visiting their children’s’ father, a teenaged boy laughing with his dad while playing a smack-down game of UNO, and a young momma who had brought her newborn to visit with his daddy.

The people in the room were here for different reasons. They were there to share a few hours with loved ones, trying to maintain relationships, trying to imagine the future together, or working out life’s inside-outside and outside-in differences.

Prison is hard.

It’s hard for the inmate, and it’s hard for the family of that inmate. You may have heard otherwise about prison, but, unless you have experienced it personally or lived the life that comes with loving someone on the inside, you have absolutely no idea…


Yesterday, in that prison visitation room, grace tapped on my shoulder.

As a woman was readying to leave the visitation room at the end of her visit, she approached my chair from behind and tapped me on the shoulder. She was with a man and two boys who appeared to be middle schoolers. Visitors are allowed to speak with other visitors; inmates are allowed to speak with other inmates. Visitors, however, are not supposed to speak with inmates, other than the one they are visiting, and inmates are not supposed to speak with visitors, other than those visiting them.

She tapped me on my shoulder and “whispered” loud enough for the others at my table to hear:

“He was my [doctor] for many years.
He helped me so much.
He changed my son’s life.
My son was plagued with ear infections
until we brought him there, and with all
he taught us and showed us, my son, who is now 11,
only ever had one ear infection after that.
He was such a good [doctor].”

The man I was visiting used to be a doctor. He’ll always be one, but he just doesn’t hold any licenses to practice anymore. The likelihood of him ever being able to practice again is very slim. It was his passion, and it was a part of his purpose for a long season of his life.

With the comments from this woman, his face grew white, and his entire mood changed. I saw regrets, sorrow, embarrassment and devastation in his eyes.

I took a deep breath, and so did he. I asked him if he remembered her. He was flustered and didn’t want to answer. He couldn’t remember her name, but he eventually did say that he did remember her.

I asked him if he was ok.
He said he was, but his demeanor didn’t affirm this.

“You know,” I said, “that was so kind of her to stop and say what she said. She could have just ignored us from across the room and never said a thing as she was leaving. She took a moment to come over to let you know how you have impacted her life. What a gracious thing for her to do.”

He nodded in agreement, as tears started to fill the corners of his eyes.

Grace. 

Unmerited favor;
Finding favor toward another;
Offering that which is often undeserved;
Love in action.

When I arrived home a few hours after my visit, the phone rang. The caller ID let me know that an inmate call was coming through the line.

He called to tell me he had just gotten back from church, and that instead of napping on his cot in the 90-degree, un-airconditioned cell block during the afternoon between our visit and church, he spent some time in prayer and reflection about this woman’s words to me following her tap on my shoulder.

He apologized to me, saying he “sucked thumb” and sulked for a while after we left, but he had come to the conclusion that he appreciated his former patient’s willingness to share the impact he had made in her life during his own past life and career. In his reflection time, he was able to remember the thousands of people he had helped over nearly 20 years of doctoring, and he was grateful for the people he had met along the way. He had decided that her words were going to serve as a positive reminder of his former season of life, rather than be a stinging reminder of what he didn’t have anymore.

And then he said it:
“She didn’t have to do that, but she did.
That was grace in action.”

Yes.
Yes, it was.
It was grace in action.
Grace brought on by a tap on the shoulder at a prison visitation.


 

 

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