DREAMS DREAMS DREAMS
I have a lot of dreams and plans for my life but all of these plans seem to be in the distant future, when my boys are grown. I am a planner and I have already planned for my empty nest decades in advance. I often talk about ALL the things I am going to do when the boys are grown and have put off most of my plans until then. Analyzed I am sure this is a coping mechanism. I have often half-jokingly said once the boys were gone I was going to run an orphanage in Africa. I was talking to a friend about how I really wanted to work with at risk youth when my boys are grown and gone. She looked at me and said, “I don’t understand what you are waiting for. You boys are older now and don’t need you as much. You don’t have to be at every single baseball game you know.”
I began to think about this a lot and thought well if an opportunity came up I would think about it. Low and behold, a coworker stood up at staff meeting and announced that there need more team member for the next Epiphany. Clearly, this was my opportunity. The beautiful thing about God is that when the situation is urgent, He lets me know. This was one of those times that I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was supposed to serve HERE AND NOW. Epiphany ministries is a prison ministry organization very closely model after Kairos. Kairos is in the adult justice system and Epiphany is set in the juvenile justice system. The main outreach for Epiphany is the three-day weekend events that are conducted twice a year. These weekends are like a Christianity 101 class. I was familiar with Epiphany because a longtime friend of mine Kim had been extremely active in the ministry for years.
I often thought that my calling was elementary age kids, but I guess I was wrong. I haven’t spent a lot of time around teenagers, I have to confess I was a little intimidated by teenagers and the thought of working with them. I knew deep in my soul this was clearly where I was supposed to serve.
MY FIRST TIME BEHIND BARS
I quickly learned there is an enormous amount of planning that goes into these weekends. The team (typically of about 40 volunteers) prepare for three to four months in advance with monthly meeting to hammer out logistics of transporting food and supplies into the correction facility. Planning out which person will give which speech and who will participate in the mini dramatic skits call The Life of Christ.
The first day of Epiphany was my very first day to step foot in a correctional facility. It was a nice spacious campus, but you couldn’t not see the razor wire fencing that surrounded the entire campus. As the young men enter the gymnasium each in khaki pants, gray collared shirt, and black athletic shoes. Each new face I encountered had the same look, each had this stoic look, but right underneath their faces were riddled with uncertainty. Each young face I saw made me think of my own two teenage boys that were at home. I remember thinking these are just babies.
Now, my name is Calm Challis from the Family of Kindness. I attended my first Epiphany weekend January 2015 and my life was forever changed. I am a better person for knowing Helpful Hector, Kool Kaden, Jarrito Jose, Incredible Isaias and Joyful James. These boys are part of my family now and are some of the deepest thinking young men I have ever met.
We aren’t allowed to ask what they did, but after just a few short hours with these boys I didn’t really care what they did. Most of them are just kid that lack guidance and just made a few wrong choices that led to a few more wrong choices and landed them as wards of the state. I quickly began to empathize with these boys. How must they have felt, when the realized their mistake was going to take them away from their families or now, they were going to go to jail, some for a pretty long time?
MY FIRST LETTER FROM PRISON
On the first day as James and I walked to the Chapel, I was asking him about his room. How big it was, what was in it, what where they allowed to keep in their room, etc? He said there was a bed, a closet for his clothes and toiletries and little desk and a window. Then he said, “I am really glad I have a window. Sometimes if I lay in bed and look out my window I can see the moon and you know there is only one moon and that is the same moon that my mom is looking at.” It took everything in me to fight back the tears in that moment. I quickly found out his dad has been in and out of jail his whole life and might get out the same month that James gets out. On the last day, James asked me, “Miss, is this your folder?” He put a letter in my folder and told me to read it later. The letter was addressed to my two sons. In the letter he told them to stay out of jail. Being in jail was hard on everyone and that his mom cries every time they talk on the phone. But the last sentence of the letter was God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers. It must have been a bit of a mantra to him because I heard him say that several times throughout the weekend. As I read this letter in my car in the parking lot of the facility the tears flowed. I didn’t have to hold back the tears this time.
ARE YOU LEGIT MISS
Hector grew up being raised by extended family. He doesn’t even know his dad and his mom is not around. He was a little harder to connect with. There was talk over the weekend that he was a leader of one of the gangs within the school. He would sit quietly and lightly pound the table and rap when there was down time. I asked him about what rap musicians he liked and he said he liked Lil Trill and Lil Snupe and I in all my middle aged whiteness trying to be hip, I asked if Lil Snupe was the son of Snoop Dog. They all got a laugh about that. Miss, they aren’t even spelled the same.”
Our table was asked to write a poem or song about a talk (or speech) that was given. Hector was happy to write and perform an original song. At the end of the day Hector slid a small piece of paper folded in half across the table to me and said. “Can you go home tonight and listen to these? You can pull them up on YouTube.” I said, you know I don’t like the bad stuff (meaning vulgar). He said, “no Miss these are good songs and will tell you about my life.”
That night I went back to my hotel room and pulled up YouTube and listened to each song. I went back the next day and had ranked the songs in order of which I liked best and we had a conversation about the songs. My favorite song he shared with me was Lil’ Trill “Sometimes I Wonder”. When I let him know that was my favorite, he said “yeah, I thought you would like that one”, with a sly smile on his face. He went on to say, it was one of his favorites too and one he closely identified with.
I will warn you if you choose to listen to the linked song, that there is a little bit of language you might find offensive, but the message far outweighs the language.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
These are just two of my first experiences in a very emotional yet fulfilling weekend. I have served in this ministry for the last five years. I have over a hundred letters from multiple young men that just want to be seen, heard, loved and most of all not forgotten. In the stories to come, I will get to tell you about all the lessons these young men have taught me over that last five years. I hope you find yourself filled with compassion for these young men just as I did.