The Criminal That I Am (And My Visit to Prison)

July 1, 2010 | 11 comments

We cross under the looping razor wire. The heavy door at the end of the corridor buzzes its welcome.

We walk over the threshold, and the door closes behind us with an echoing thud, sealing us into temporary captivity. I lean against the wall, drop chin to chest and reach hands behind me for the coolness of cement block.

We wait, in whispers, for our cue to step into the room where a hundred or more inmates have risen to their feet. The bass thumps inside the prison gymnasium, and we can hear praises rise through thick walls.

And that’s when I begin to giggle. Because who can contain this kind of joy that bursts when shackles drop?

Yes, this is how it feels to be free. In prison? Yes …

Who would have guessed? I’m again awed by the beautiful irony of our faith.

I shake my head, bite my lower lip, cup hand over mouth to contain the laughter. Then, I let my joy burst wide open — shoulders shaking — when the chorus of a hundred men’s voices echoes in the rafters.

A uniformed man holds the gymnasium door open, bids us come, and we walk single-file into the back of the room. We’ve come to sing with them, pray with them, dine with them. We’ve driven three hours for this surprise visit to their men’s retreat. We’ve come to celebrate freedom on the other side of the razor wire.

We join the chorus, singing their song and raising our hands in praise. And the men with the inmate numbers stamped to their blue prison-issue shirts, they turn in surprise to see unfamiliar faces. Tears stream down the face of a man who has spent the better part of the past decade behind prison walls.

This is what it means to do the Jailhouse Rock.
We sing “Days of Elijah” together.

“Behold He comes
riding on the clouds
shining like the sun
at the trumpet call.
Lift your voice
It’s the year of Jubilee
And out of Zion’s Hill
Salvation comes!”

Some people say a prisoner doesn’t deserve freedom or love. But that day, they’d found both anyhow.

The song ended, and I found the man with the streaming tears. I gave him a hug, then looked in the eyes of a convicted criminal. Was he a thief, a crook, a liar?

Yep. Me, too. I’m a criminal too. A felon who daily sends Christ to the cross.

I clutch his hands in mine, whisper through the knot in my throat: “You don’t have to live on the outside to know what it means to be free. You’ve found your Freedom, my friend. Hold Him close forever.”

For Freedom is a Person.


This Independence Day weekend, I thank God for my country and the flag and the freedom to worship freely in sanctuaries and homes … and prisons.

But I thank God mostly for the kind of freedom that crosses over dimensions of time and space. My friend, Pastor Craig, put it this way on his blog: “It isn’t represented by a flag, but by a cross and a cup.”

I’m raising the roof for Jesus this weekend, and for the source of all Truth. Because the Truth shall set us free.

Photo: Razor wire, stock.xhu

Background: My favorite farmer plants seeds in this dirt, here on this farm, but twice a year he plants spiritual seeds in an Iowa prison. On the final day of each three-day retreat, spouses and others from the “outside” are allowed inside the prison walls for a time of worship and fellowship with our inmate-brothers. Please pray for them, that they stay rooted in the Word.

by | July 1, 2010 | 11 comments


  1. Sara

    To know the sound of shackles hitting the ground, the clatter of chains, a heart unfettered truly able to praise. An inmate of soul prison, wooed behind the enemy's line, captured unaware. A prisoner once held in darkest despair sings more sweetly when she lives the freedom that Jesus brings.

    Singing in freedom today,

  2. Jennifer

    Powerful post Jennifer. Truth shall set us free… beautiful truth! 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful weekend!

  3. elizabeth

    I love this. How awesome! The song Days of Elijah is one of my favs also.

  4. alicia

    I love that song so much, and to hear it as shackles drop… priceless. As one who has a dear family member spending a decade in prison I very much appreciate the time that your husband and those men take to spend time with them. Offering hope. None of us should ever be without hope. Not the "prisoner" walking the streets, nor the prisoner behind bars.
    Many blessings to you today!

  5. Beth E.

    Jennifer, this post gave me goosebumps.What a wonderful opportunity to witness – and experience – the freedom to worship our Lord and Savior, Jesus!

  6. B. Meandering

    Powerful message.
    I haven't heard that song before, but I loved the words.

  7. Lyla Lindquist

    Read this last night.

    Came back today after I exhaled.

    I can see this, you walking into prison racked with crazy shaking laughter.

    You and Silas, you'd have made a fine pair. Enjoy your weekend in freedom, my friend.

  8. elliejames30

    I'm so touched!
    i was amazed also. i just pictured it out when i read the comments. i thought that the one telling the story is a man, with male inmates.
    i was so blessed that even in prison, there are still people trying to reach these lost souls.

    thanks for the post!

  9. Janis@Open My Ears Lord

    What a beautiful experience, Jennifer. To SEE the true meaning of "Freedom". To be humble in realizing that each of us was once held in prison and still falls into that captivity, needing the truth to set us free.
    So many in our country live only in physical freedom but not spiritual freedom. It is our Judeo/Christian heritage that gives us that freedom.
    So good to hear of your precious 4th of July celebrations. Thank you for stopping by and your encouraging words. They lifted me today.
    From My Heart to Yours,

  10. Karen

    This sharing touched my heart so much…what a wonderful ministry…I have never stepped out and done anything like that before…but I do correspond with prison pen pals through my church…I have learned what you were blessed to see first hand…the prisoners bless us so much more than we could ever bless them….

  11. Anne Lang Bundy

    Jennifer, I'm glad you got a taste of ministering to prisoners. I don't know why I have a tender spot for them. (As an ex-cop and present wife of a cop, no less!)

    There is something in my soul that sings every time I help lead worship for prisoners who know the Lord, knowing they are more free than so many people outside the wire.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest