Daughters and Their Daddies
Part of our continued Summer Blog Series, you will read experiences from students who are participating in summer internships. This week you’ll hear from a student who is working at Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries, a community funded ministry which provides Christian Ministry, counseling, and re-entry guidance to the incarcerated in the Forsyth County, NC area. Their congregation includes the 1150 men, women, and children in the Forsyth County Law Enforcement Detention Center, the Forsyth Correctional Center, and the Youth Detention Center, all located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Well, it’s summer again. New things are in bloom, new plants, and new hatchlings, and for me a new experience. This summer the Lord has blessed me, through Wake Forest, with a chaplaincy internship with the Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries. It is providing me with an inside look at the nuances of prison chaplaincy which I could not otherwise obtain as part of my vocational calling. It will help me understand the inner workings of putting together programs, the interactions with the inmates (including their daily requests, health and welfare needs) and the ongoing tending of the souls that prison chaplains commit to as part of the call. Last weekend I witnessed an example of the prison chaplain’s life and its reward.
Last weekend the prison held its first ever daughter/daddy dance. In those two days I was able to learn the process of obtaining the necessary volunteers, organizing a complex activity, coordinating movements within the prison, and training volunteers to make them aware of the rules and regulations and what to expect while in the prison. The volunteers came from a local church, including two dance instructors as well as an independent volunteer etiquette trainer. They arrived early Friday evening and we went through the orientation and provided them with the game plan.
The daughters arrived later and met their the daddies and together they spent Friday evening learning dining etiquette, including the proper placement and use of eating utensils, napkins, the side of the plate the drink is placed and the side the bread plate is placed. Afterwards the dance instructors taught them how to do the Chicago step. The daughters and daddies also picked out some donated dresses which their mothers/caretakers altered for them (the volunteers helped with the hems before they took them home). Although it
was a very good night, by all accounts things were similar to standard prison visitation.
The transformation occurred the following night.
On Saturday, as the daddies waited upstairs pacing and chattering in anticipation, their decked out daughters arrived downstairs. The daddies knew the daughters arrived, which amplified the tension and excitement. Then, one by one, dads were called downstairs to meet their daughters while a photographer took pictures of the meeting as a memento of the occasion. This kind of formal introduction seemed to make things all the more exciting for everyone. We (the chaplains) then seated our guests and served them dinner. Earlier, we hung decorations and brought out tablecloths and linen napkins which created a restaurant-like atmosphere. The only thing missing was a tuxedoed violin player with the pencil thin mustache (just like the movies) and a French accent. After their desserts the daughters and daddies proceeded upstairs to the dance.
Upstairs was a picture of the stereotypical Hollywood ‘50’s dance movie. There were ornaments and pom-poms hanging from the ceiling. There was another area where the daughters and dads could pose for pictures. For one night this was not a prison which confined, but a place that restored. The scene was beyond cute, but the blessing was in witnessing the healing between the daughters and their daddies. These were nights where new lives and beginnings bloomed.
Still, in my mind were the social facts. According to the 2011 North Carolina prison statistics provided by the Department of Corrections, 97% of the inmates are males and of those 57% are African-American. I am from Colorado and the demographics aren’t any better. I remember the big drug epidemic in Colorado during the 80s. For years there were differences in the sentencing guidelines between cocaine possession and crack possession. While crack was portrayed by crack babies and gangs wars, cocaine was portrayed as something a person brought to the party at posh ski resorts like Aspen. Cocaine was the rich person’s drug and crack was the poor person’s cocaine. Today, Colorado has legalized marijuana. A person can legally sell it if they have filed the proper paperwork and have obtained the appropriate licenses. Numerous suburban youths have become wealthy entrepreneurs in just a few months. Meanwhile, the fifteen year old, lower income youth who has dropped out of school and is selling marijuana on the street still faces prison time. Justice still peaks out from under the blindfold to see who is in court.
At the School of Divinity I have been taught to critically examine the whole picture. The disparity of the racial demographics of the legal system indicates that we as a collective family have a long way to go to achieve the harmony of God. The correctional facilities house the results of numerous inequalities and are tangible evidence that something is wrong with the picture of America.
As chaplains and pastors and people, it is in our hands to mediate forgiveness. To allow victim and perpetrator, those to whom an injustice has been served, to become restored in abundance to the full and overflowing. As a nation, and more importantly as an interracial family, we need to press for a reformation of these things so that the laws of our nation are applied in a realistic and nonpartisan manner.
Nonetheless, hope was dancing right in front of me on Saturday night. Here were these inmates with their daughters whose grace and charm was the picture of the reciprocity of God’s love. As the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, so the daughter loves her daddy and the daddy loves his daughter. If this were not enough, I watched the chaplains beaming. To see the chaplain’s joy in the joy of others, to love the other as God loves them, I was shown that serving others and being happy at their joy is the absolute reciprocity of God’s love. This is pro humanitate.
To see the life of the servant in the selflessness of the prison chaplains was the manifestation of love. They are people who love unconditionally in their hopes to prevent more victimization. They are the shepherds of God’s unconditional love. Sadly prison chaplains have no issue filling pews. Their hope is to empty the pews to the Light of the World.
Yes, many of these men are hard criminals and by no means am I trivializing their crimes nor impersonalizing and dehumanizing their victims. However, some are being interned by a system in need of reform. For the former, perhaps some of them will never victimize anyone again and that is God’s restorative power. For the latter, perhaps while in prison they realize the inner strength which Christ provides them and they endeavor to become whole in the image of God.
I was blessed last weekend by God through the team of chaplains at Forsyth Jail and Prison Ministries who reciprocated God’s love and manifested the work of the Holy Spirit. The daughters and their dads bear witness to that. Agape love is now in bloom and lives to spring forth anew. That is the story of this summer’s new beginning for me.
Kevin is from Denver, Colorado. After undergoing a 35+ year discernment process to get to Wake Forest, he’ll tell you one thing he has learned is, “It’s not when you start, but where you finish.”
Images by Garrett Garms Photography provided by Forsyth Prison and Jail Ministries on Facebook.