Article written by Pastor Tim Benjamin published in The Evening Leader on Monday, Oct 21, 2019
I spent 8 years serving my previous church in Lima and during that time I developed a relationship with two people who are now incarcerated. I knew one of them prior to their prison term. I met the family of the other person after they went through a terrible ordeal. They came to the church looking for help and support during an awful time. I visit one of these folks monthly, taking a Friday night to drive to Dayton to spend an hour or two in conversation. If you have never been inside a large prison, it is truly every bit as awful as it sounds. However, it is nothing like what you see on cop shows. For the most part, the people who are in prison are no more scary, intimidating or evil than people you encounter in any public place. Yes, there are exceptions to that, but the exceptions are not as common as the TV show Law & Order would lead you to believe.
The other incarcerated person I have developed a relationship has served a 4-year sentence and is scheduled to be released on Monday, Oct. 21, the same day this article is to appear in The Evening Leader. It has been 4 years of a hellish nightmare for the entire family and they are beyond excited to have the family member back home.
I am not suggesting that this person did not owe a debt to society. While I have some serious questions about what happened in both of these cases, my purpose is not to convince anyone that the “man” is out to get them because that isn’t true. What I want to help everyone do is take just a moment to realize that making mistakes and doing things that are wrong does not change the fact that these prisoners are people.
As I sit in the visitation rooms prior to visiting with prisoners, I look around the room and I see families. I see dads and moms bringing kids in to visit, trying to take advantage of every moment they are together in these very stark, cinderblock rooms that smell like disinfectant and have terrible lighting. It breaks my heart that most, if not all of the people who are in prison are there because of a bad moment. A single bad moment that nearly all of them would take back if they could. That moment costs them years of their lives. God only knows what that bad moment cost anyone else involved in the situation. There truly is no upside to the whole situation and it is terrible.
Situations like this are why I became a minister in the first place. So often, I get the call after the situation goes wrong. When there is an illness, a death or some other kind of crisis, I am the one they call when everything else fails. That is the part of my job I accept, but I don’t leave it there. I am also on the proactive end of this too. This is why churches I serve focus on youth and children’s ministry. Not only are we helping the kids who are already going to be successful because they come from good, solid families, we also get the chance to have influence on kids of all ages who do not come from solid backgrounds. If I can prevent anyone from going for years with the only place they see their family is that awful prison visitation room, then all of this is worth it. Add that to the fact that, if I can influence people of any age to think before they act, not only could that help the perpetrator in an awful moment, but it could also save the victim. It doesn’t get any better than that.
My prayer for my friend who gets to come home: There will never be another terrible moment because you will make better choices. You have many people who care about you, who have stood by you these past four years. I pray that you will reward our faith in you. For you, it is literally the dawn of a new day. Please make the most of it.