by Maggie Witherow and Jim Parker
Along with Maggie Witherow, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to volunteer my Mondays at Martin Correctional Institution. MCI is a ‘close security’, State prison that is home to over 1,500 men. Although we are part of the Chaplain’s volunteer team, we are blessed to be allowed to meet with men in their cell blocks, the infirmary, confinement, as well as in the chapel.
Blessing # 1. Maggie and I are blessed to receive far more than we are able to offer to the men we meet. Yes, we pray with them, facilitate classes, listen to them, laugh with them, and share stories with them (Miss Maggie even tells horrible ‘blonde jokes’ – and the men are far too polite not to laugh, which only encourages her to tell yet another joke). Of these, an important blessing we have gained is we have learned how to really listen. Every man we meet has a story that he wants to share. Maggie and I try to be really authentic in our listening. The better we become at listening – and not in talking – the more open conversations we have. Authentic listening is a blessing. It is something that benefits us both in all areas of our life.
Blessing # 2. We have been blessed to learn that God is with us always – no matter where we are. Watching and listening to the men we meet shows over and over again that He is always there for all of us if ‘we but open the door to Him’. We see this nearly every Monday in the agape love that is apparent in the men we meet. 1st Corinthians 13 is alive and well at MCI. We are blessed to see kindness, patience, trust, perseverance and most importantly – HOPE.
Blessing # 3. For years, I really believed that I could never be forgiven for the life that I had lived. Listening to Maggie and the men I meet at MCI; I now know that God loves and has forgiven me. A real whopper of a blessing for me has been to learn about forgiveness. The barbed wire, the walls, the guards are all constant reminders of sins committed. Yet so many of the men we meet have solace in knowing that they are forgiven of their sins by a truly loving God.
Blessing # 4. This blessing is a little harder for me to understand – As a volunteer, I am never more free than when I am inside MCI. As Maggie and I sit and chat with residents, walk around the compound and especially when we pray with a group of residents, a real sense of serenity prevails. The only explanation I have is best summed up in the words of a traditional Christian hymn – “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.” What a blessing.
I’m well aware of the harsh realities of being incarcerated. I also know that as a volunteer I am blessed with a personal spirit of calmness at MCI.
Why did I write this short article? My hope is that you will see the blessings Maggie and I have in volunteering. There is a huge need for more volunteers. We ask that you prayerfully consider volunteering in one of our nearby prisons through Matthew 25 Ministries. Ted Rodarm will be happy to help you get started. You too will be blessed.