There is a healing aspect to the work

Regular and frequent are not my strong suits for visiting as a volunteer chaplain at two of Missouri’s maximum security prisons. Even when on schedule, I visit each prison once during the second week and once during the fourth week. When a gap in my being at either prison approaches one month, I pay the price.

Getting in the car for the one and a half hour drive to one of the prisons this past Tuesday morning was something I definitely didn’t want to do. Cookies were baking, the house was warm, the weather was cold and windy. Everything was very cozy, very tempting. Nevertheless, off I went.

Perhaps I didn’t mention that I also didn’t feel well at all, really felt out of sorts. Stomach was on edge; a mild but persistent headache damped my enthusiasm. The cold bothered me and chilled me more than usual.

My first stop at the prison was the staff restroom. Some time there might help. Anyway, shortly thereafter I decided to make the best of it, checked out a set of keys, a radio, and proceeded through the entry process: fingerprint scanner, x-ray tunnel, metal detector, visual ID check against the photo produced on a screen by my fingerprint input.

The complex is sprawling, and the housing units seem much lower than their two stories when the wind is whistling over the desolate recreation yard. If the buildings exerted any blocking action on the wind, I sure couldn’t detect it.

During count time there is no one to be seen. Entrance to the chapel area is a block away from the last of three gates I pass through and is clear across the yard. My checking in at the chapel is mainly to grab any new literature: copies of the Daily Bread booklet and War Cry, the magazine of the Salvation Army. The men I visit are in lockdown isolation and don’t have access to the chapel area where available reading material can be found in racks along the hallway walls.

By the time I was in the isolation wing and at a cell door talking to an offender, I was feeling OK. What was causing my reluctance, my being ill-at-ease, my wanting any excuse to stay home? I believe it’s partly (mostly?) intimidation and anxiety. When I’m away for a while, the place intimidates me. I feel as though I don’t belong. There is also a sense of having let the men down because of my long absence.

As for feeling better so quickly, getting back into the role helps. But I also feel there is a healing aspect to the work. The ministering at any given cell door is two-way. Minister and ministered become one. For that I’m grateful.

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