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100 Things I've Learned... From Prison

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

“I have received no immediate assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.” - The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting blog post titled, “100 Things I Know.” While most of the advice was not applicable to my life, I was left wondering, “What is it that I know?” I discussed the thought with our adult horticulture class the following Tuesday and realized, this would be an excellent activity for us to complete together. They were to report to next class with 100 things that they knew. When I informed the juvenile class of the assignment, I watched as their faces contorted with bewilderment – “100?!”, one kid exclaimed. “100”, I firmly replied. It was my turn to be bewildered when I arrived for the next class – every single juvenile student had completed the assignment. Better yet, every single student was eager to present. I had underestimated them. I asked the boys to choose five items that they would like to share, then we would randomly call out three numbers between 1-100 and they would have to read out what they wrote for that number. The assignment quickly went south. They wrote things like, “I know my name,” “I know my ABC’s,” “I know when my release date is.” Yes, they had completed the assignment, but they had not completed it well. I could see in their faces and in their writing just how low their self-confidence was. Despite the minor setback, I was encouraged that every student had indeed taken the time to write out 100 items. I collected their papers and headed home to enter their grades. That’s when things took a turn for the worse. Every. Single. Boy wrote that they know how to use a gun. Every. Single. Child wrote about how they know how to fight. Make no mistake, these are not scary kids; many of them are tiny and some have been locked up since they were 12-13. Reading their responses, I became angry. This is what our culture has produced. This is what our entertainment, our mass media, and gang-riddled neighborhoods have told them to be proud of. This, my friends, is evidence of a culture that is fundamentally broken. There’s no amount of resources that you can pour into a system to fix a culture that is broken. You can build after-school programs, you can hire more school counselors, you can clean up parks and public housing projects, and all of that is great (and costs millions), but it cannot and will not fix a culture. These are boys that have been misguided by music, movies, men, and social media and are now paying the price for it – by spending their prime years in a 10x6’ prison cell. By the way, I know that their cells are 10x6’ because one child wrote for number 52, “I know my cell is 10x6 feet.” We are paying for this broken culture – some of these kids are fathers, and their children are the future. When these kids steal, shoot, and sneak around, they are often hurting innocent people like you and me. They are paying a price for their crimes, but we’re paying a price too. It’s not a zero-sum game. As I sat grading, getting angrier and angrier, I came across one of our best student’s papers. He wrote, “I know that I will pass horticulture.” A smile returned to my face. Four lines down, he wrote, “I know my dad walked out on me.” My heart broke. For one of my 100 things I know, I wrote, “Our children are, for nearly all of us, our only legacy.” I don’t have children, but by God’s grace, these incarcerated boys are a part of my legacy, of HeartBound’s legacy. And we need your help. These young men are incarcerated at Burruss Correctional Training Center. It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes south of Atlanta. We currently offer horticulture classes on Tuesdays and art classes on Thursdays. Chaplains John and Omar typically minister to the young men on Wednesdays. We need Godly men and women to help serve these young men at Burruss. We need to change the culture. We need volunteers willing to go in and teach. It can be in the mornings, daytime, or evenings, just not on weekends. It doesn’t matter what you teach – art, writing, dog training, whatever – every minute we spend with them makes a difference. The activity is secondary; what is most important is that they see, speak with, and learn from living, breathing examples of God’s love, “image bearers of God”, as scripture puts it. If you do not have the time to serve, you can support our programming for these juveniles (as well as our programming for incarcerated 12-21 year-olds at various youth detention centers) by donating at If you feel call to served, please schedule an introductory phone call with me by responding to this email. I’ll walk you through the volunteer certification process. We typically like to pair up volunteers in teams of 2-4. You can serve weekly, bi-weekly, monthly - it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be an artist – we can supply you with paint by number kits or books for a Bible study. Any sort of program makes a difference.. These boys are desperate for genuine, caring human interaction. Ninety-five percent of them are coming back home, and we cannot afford to have them returned as hardened criminals. Our job as a ministry is to serve them and equip you to serve. I’ll escort you into the facility for your first few classes and from then on, you just check in with HeartBound whenever you need more supplies. Hebrews 13:3 tells us that we are called to remember the prisoner. Every time we go into serve, we get more out of the experience than we put in. We want you to have that same experience. It’s truly a joy to serve these boys. If you feel called to serve, please reach out. We need you. These boys need you. Have a blessed day. Spencer

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