The strangest thing happened on Tuesday during our horticulture class final exam at Burruss Correctional Training Center.
I challenged the students to prepare a 2-3 minute speech detailing what life would look life if they were a plant for a day. I had no idea what kind of answers they would come up with; I simply wanted them to practice public speaking because one day they’ll sit before a parole board, or at a job interview, or with a date. They need to know how to speak for themselves, to tell the stories that God has given them. Here's the plants they selected: rose, potato, blade of grass, oak tree, sunflower, lotus, tomato, flor de maga, dandelion, rice, and cactus. Their speeches were hilarious, creative, and heartbreaking. Over and over, I heard a common theme: loneliness. They did not collaborate on their speeches and they did not rehearse before class. Independently, they each mentioned how lonely they felt. As an outside observer (they were grading each other), I couldn’t help but draw a connection. Prison is a lonely place. Days drag into months, months into years. More often than not, families gradually stop visiting, letters cease to arrive. Appeals are exhausted, loved ones pass away. The walls are painted white, the landscape is sterile. Recently, I was able to select four students to plant flowers by the front gate. As we planted, one student looked around and exclaimed, “Man, I haven’t seen a tree in so long!” His face was filled with joy. Each speech left me amazed. Here’s an excerpt of one, “I am the lotus. There’s a certain kind of peace around me. I can bloom in the ugliest and darkest of places, wherever you find me, I am going to make it… We can all be lotuses.” I wish each person could see the lotus inside of them. I wish we never had to go to prison ever again, that I could snap my fingers and the violence would stop. But I am encouraged that even in the darkest of places, these men can bloom. God is working through this horticulture program. While every student mentioned some feeling of loneliness, they each spoke about how they were beautiful. As one student said, “If I could talk, imagine the stories I could tell you. How much of a blessing it is to still be alive.” Please pray for our students and if you feel called, support our horticulture and art classes at Burruss Correctional Training Center by donating at www.givebutter.com/HeartBound. With gratitude, Spencer