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
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.