October 8, 2015

Not alone in a solitary cell

Written by  Katie Mininger

After coming back from a YES assignment in Cusco, Peru, and serving as hostess at the Baltimore (Md.) Discipleship Center for six months, I was job searching desperately. After many months of closed doors, I remembered hearing in YES re-entry about an organization called Support for Prison Ministries. I contacted them and found out they were hiring at the Lancaster County Youth Intervention Center and Lancaster County Prison. That was 12 years ago — and since then, I have had the amazing privilege of working as a chaplain at the Lancaster (Pa.) County Prison.

I feel blessed to see God’s hand at work in many women’s lives at Lancaster County Prison. I’ve especially seen this in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) at the prison — where women spend 10, 20, or 30 days in a solitary cell with no special privileges. The women housed in this unit have broken prison policy, fought with a correctional officer, or manipulated the system in some way. Their regular jail clothes are exchanged for a bright yellow jumper. Almost everything they thought they had to survive prison life is gone.

One lady who landed here had attempted to have her boyfriend bring in drugs during her family visitation time. She had been a drug addict for most of her life, with heroin being her drug of choice. She got caught and was sentenced to 90 days in the RHU, an extremely long sentence — and one she thought quite unfair.

The first day I saw her she was angry. I could see the hate and anger pouring out of her eyes. “The system is so messed up! This is so unfair,” she complained. “I’m going to go crazy for 90 days. They just want to make an example out of me.” She was furious! She was also mad at God and didn’t really know if she could believe in a God who would allow this to happen to her. She described it as feeling like she was straddling a cliff, and if she took one wrong step she would fall. She had no solid ground beneath her.

She was worn out and tired from living the drug life. She knew that if she went back to it, she would most likely end up dead due to the amount of drugs she was taking. Her body would not be able to handle it. She was also tired of the stealing, conniving, and manipulation that went along with the drug life, but she didn’t know how to get out of the web of burdens she had spun.

Each week as we talked in the RHU, God met her in that cell. We spoke about standing on solid ground: Jesus Christ. We talked about how the quality of the fruit our lives produce tells us where our roots are planted, in what type of soil. We spoke about the Holy Spirit changing our hearts and healing our hurts. I shared about how when we come to Jesus, he takes our burdens and sin and gives us rest and new life. This was truly good news for her tired soul.

Over the weeks her anger disappeared, and a joy and light began to shine in her eyes. She was soaking up the Bible, digesting it and applying it to her life. She learned that Jesus cared for her, and she began to trust his gentle and humble ways. She prayed and met with Jesus. I could feel His presence in her cell — the same cell in which, when she first moved in, she had been so angry, tired, bitter, and always the victim.

What’s the difference? God showed up! Jesus met her in that small, lonely cell and began transforming her hurt and pain. He removed her sin and guilt, and he carried her burdens. The change was visible.

God is so good! He is a gentle and humble God who cares about his children — no matter where we find ourselves.

Jesus’ words are truth: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Katie Mininger works as a chaplain at the Lancaster County Prison and Lancaster County Youth Intervention Center through Support for Prison Ministries. She graduated from Lancaster Bible College with a degree in Bible and Social Work. She enjoys living in Lancaster City, exploring new bike routes, and eating sushi.

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