An Unfamiliar World – Volume 2 – The First Night

I am sitting in a room that has no windows. Well I guess there are windows on one wall, but they just look out into the next room, which has no windows. In this room you don’t know if it’s night or day.  You can’t tell what time it is because there is nothing on the walls, not even a clock. The only furniture in the room are plastic chairs.

Seated in a semi-circle in front of me are 10 women. I’m guessing that their ages are from 18 – 50ish.  It’s hard to tell.  Many of them look like they have lived hard years. I am to mentor these women as part of a re-entry program. When I was asked if I wanted to volunteer my first question was what did I have to offer? The sergeant told me I could teach/share anything. I could help them learn about how to write a resume, balance a checkbook, or write a paragraph.

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None of those options appealed to me. I thought maybe I had something else to share. Maybe some of my life experiences and the lessons I have learned might help them see that things could be better, things could be different, and that there was hope.

There is silence in the room.  How do I start?  I have never done anything like this before.  I decide to have them state their name, how old they are, and if they have any children. Their answers surprise me. Most of them are very young and have at LEAST 3 children.  Many are sporting tattoos and several are missing front teeth. Their crimes range from theft, drugs/alcohol, to assault, and non-payment of child support.

Then it was my turn to share a bit about me.  I wanted to impress them so I started out telling them I am an author. I should have told them I’m a famous author, I figured they don’t read much, how would they know. Because I am human I had already made assumptions about these women.  I assumed they didn’t read. I assumed that they didn’t care about their children. I assumed that they didn’t have feelings or if they did have some they would never show them. And my biggest assumption was that they were in no way anything like me.

After all these assumptions you might think that I would have been exhausted, but I was not. I am not proud of this, but I had made them in an instant, without any effort, without even knowing anything about them. I had prejudged them. Shame on me.

I am looking forward to learning more about these women, and in doing so, perhaps I’ll learn more about myself. I love the roads that God takes me down. They may not always make me happy, but they ALWAYS have something for me to learn. So hang with me and maybe you can learn something too.

 

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An Unfamiliar World

I step out of the car in the dark. I look around for a parking meter and then remember it’s after six and I don’t have to pay. I approach the building with a bit of nervous tension. I am out of my environment, out of my comfort zone.

The building is surrounded by what seem to be homeless people.  If it were not surrounded by police I would never go in. But it was and I did. The room is crowded, babies are crying, but for the most part there is some sense of order.  The people in the room may as well be from another country, they may as well speak another language.  I feel a bit of discomfort. There is a long line of people waiting to go through to the next room. I have a badge so I pass by those who are in line. It may be in my mind, in fact it probably is, but I feel that some of the folks in the room give me, shall we say, an unfriendly look.

Is it because I don’t have to wait in line? Is it because I have a badge? Is it because I clearly am not like them?  I’m not sure. I proceed to the entrance to the inner sanctum. Here all doors are locked and I must be buzzed in. Here I must face the camera (they are everywhere) and show them my badge.

The first door is buzzed open and I enter a small room with another door. I must wait till the door behind me shuts before the next opens. On my left there is a window to a small room with a man in it. I turn to him and show him my badge. He nods and as the door behind me shuts with a scary bang, the one before me opens.

I step out tentatively not sure which way to go. I must admit my heart is beating a little faster. I find the elevators and one again I face the camera in the ceiling to show my badge so the doors to the elevator will open. This elevator is different than most. It has no buttons to pick a floor. I must yet again face the camera and give hand signals that tell which floor I want.

The doors open and I must repeat the camera and badge sequence several times before I reach my destination. Finally, I have made it.You may wonder where I am or perhaps you have guessed. I am at the jail.

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I am part of the re-entry program for women. These are women who will soon be released from jail. The hope with the program is to help them with resources and knowledge so they might end their patterns of poor choices, and to let them know that someone cares.

My night is Wednesday. I have between 5-12 women. I have been doing this for several months. In the next several weeks I will be blogging about my experiences with these women.  You will learn the things I am sharing in my efforts to teach them, to help them.  And you will learn the things I am learning as I visit with these ladies.

So, I hope you take some time and come with me while I travel out of my comfort zone into an unfamiliar world.