Every so often, you get a perfect day in prison.
On Tuesday, all was quiet when I pulled into Burruss Correctional Training Center. Emerging from the front guard gate into Burruss, I looked towards the sky. Not a cloud to be seen. A perfect blue sky, and up against it, rows and rows of razor wire. Further below, brown grass, waiting for spring to emerge, waiting to be reborn. Fences and razor wire and blue skies and brown grass as far as the eye could see. I met with Gabi, our Pups in Prison coordinator, ran over her plan for the day, and told the unit manager that we were ready for classes to begin. Gabi has a heart for prison ministry. She also has a heart for dogs. She is dedicated to both. She brings joy to the Pups in Prison students. Her warmth and care radiate throughout the classroom. I’m in awe when I watch her teach. The boys love and respect her so much. After meeting with Gabi, I headed to the prison yard for Project ART. The boys and I played Spikeball, tossed a football around on the prison yard, and talked about children being born and parole dates and faith and the future. I looked across the yard and saw someone sitting alone with his back leaned up against the fence. His white uniform and neon orange Crocs stood out against the blue sky. I raised my hand to shield my eyes from the sun and saw that it was Terry. Kuzco, one of the rescue dogs in our Pups in Prison program, was sitting in his lap. Terry was gently petting Kuzco’s head while Kuzco slept. For a moment, time stood still for me. Terry has been one of our best students and is one of the best dog trainers. Since beginning the program, he’s gone from a shy, scared to speak up, standoffish, inattentive kid to one that is a leader, a friend to all, and a voice of reason. I’ve watched Terry show support, lend a kind word, and encourage his fellow inmates. So, as I watched Terry sit there and pet that dog against that beautiful blue sky, I began to pray. For hope, for restoration, for salvation. Terry recently converted to Islam. He has so many questions about God, Jesus, and the Bible, and I do my best to answer them. Often, I have to tell him, “Terry, I just don’t know.” Watching him there, in that moment, I prayed that Terry would find the answers to the questions that he had been seeking. I pray that Terry finds Truth, the Truth that sets men free. I recently spoke at the graduation ceremony for another dog program, the Rescued Program at Colwell Probation and Detention Center. It was one of the best days of my life. During the ceremony, a young man stood up. He, like Gabi, instantly radiated warmth. Officer Carter (who might be my most favorite person I’ve ever met in Corrections) beckoned him to the front and handed him a microphone. The microphone trembled in his hands. He cleared his throat and began: Gentleman, I would like to congratulate you on completing this fantastic program. I am a graduate of group 33 of the Rescued Program. I have since been released and am 363 days sober. I challenge you to be the person your dog thinks you are. I want to thank all of the staff here at Colwell for caring about us enough to show up each and every day. For being there when I needed somebody to talk to. For seeing us as people and not as detainees. I want to tell each of you that you are somebody. You are a child of God. God freed me from addiction. He freed me from incarceration. And there’s nothing that could stop me today from coming here and telling you that He’s coming for you. He’s coming for you. So, you better get ready. He came for me, and He will come for you. God is coming for Terry, whether Terry knows it or not. God is there right now. God was with Terry as he sat against that razor wire. God has planted a seed in Terry, and I pray that it grows in good soil. God walks with us, wherever we go, and no matter how far away we run, no matter how often we stray, no matter what crime we commit, God loves me and you and Terry and Jace and Brian and Avant and every boy serving time as an adult at Burruss. As I got ready to leave, Terry tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and asked him what he wanted to be when he was released. In a soft voice, Terry said, “I want to be a vet. I want to work with dogs.” It was a perfect day in prison.