Locked In and Locked Out

Tapped: mental Illness inAmerica's PrisonsYesterday I went to prison to give my testimony.

Sixteen doors, locking behind me. Quiet footsteps echoing down the landings – and then – suddenly, a burst of noise. Voices spilling into the corridor. A roomful of women – like me, but not like me.

I take my seat in the circle. I push back into the brickwork.  I listen.  And then – gradually,  I speak.

I talk about growing up in Northern Ireland.  In a nice middle-class home, with a loving middle-class family.

They are silent.

I talk about being a good girl, who always kept the rules.

They are silent.

I talk about going to church and bible college and marrying a vicar.

They are silent.

I listen to the silence.  I feel my privilege, my softness, my gentle, insulated life.

I wonder why I’m here.  I pray. And I speak again.

I talk about a hunger that can’t be filled.

I talk about letting down the people I love most.

I talk about shame and guilt and anger and a past that won’t stay buried.

I talk about paying for it by myself.

I talk about wanting something so much I want to kill it and I want to kill myself.

I talk about a God who’s just about the rules.

And then

I talk about Jesus.

Who fills our hunger.

Who carries our pain.

Who pays for our mistakes.

Who dies so we don’t have to.

Gradually, they speak. 

We talk about a God who comes for prisoners – on the inside and on the outside too.  The good girls and the bad.  The weak – and the strong. We talk about the prodigal son – the bad boy who ends up at the feast, the good boy who’s shut out.   We talk about the God who shocks; and the God who shelters.

I walk out in silence with the woman who invited me.  She too gave her testimony: and spoke of a world I can barely imagine.

‘Life’, I say, ‘is very serious’.

She unlocks the gate. Looks at me.  And nods. ‘Without Jesus’ she says, ‘there is nothing’.

We’re very different.  But I know exactly what she means.

2 thoughts on “Locked In and Locked Out

  1. Great testimony, Emma. In places like this we realise there is more suffering in the world than ours and the fact that only God can change hearts, we are only tools in His hands.

  2. What a profound & powerful testimony. ‘Father God, I pray that the seeds that were sown in those prisoners will grow & that some of those prisoners will be eternally set free this Christmas & become our sisters in Christ’ Amen

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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