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"How do you work with the poor?" You don't.

When HeartBound hosts our Returning Hearts Celebrations, I like to work the check-in table for families. Why? For many of the children, this will be their first visit to prison. They’re staring up at imposing guard towers and menacing chain-link fences adorned with row after row of concertina wire. Their caregiver is usually apprehensive too – “I’m dropping off my child with these strangers for what?”

 

Our job at check-in is to quell these fears, to put on a smiling face and encourage them that it’ll all be alright.

 

Check in at Burruss’ Returning Hearts a few weeks ago went easy enough, everyone filled out their paperwork and so many caregivers told us how eager they were to go nap or get their nails done at the salon. After everyone was through the gate, I locked up the rest of our supplies and proceeded through the gate. On my way to the gym, I passed the visitation room, where 20 or so families were meeting with their incarcerated loved one.

 

It was Saturday morning, about 10 AM. The room was painted a stark white, the polished tile floors reflected the glow of the vending machines. Men sat in white plastic chairs, two feet away from their loved ones. A small plastic side table divided the chasm between them.

 

It was so depressing. Visitors and inmates are not supposed to touch or stand up. During visitation you’re just supposed to sit there, across from one another, and talk. For 2 hours.

 

The scene really broke my heart. But I had places to be, so I rushed through on my way to the gym for Returning Hearts. What greeted me was the quite opposite of what I saw in the visitation room. There was joyful music playing, sounds and colors and glowing lights. Children were laughing and running around freely. Boys and their fathers were shooting hoops, tossing cornhole bags, riding horses. It was everything that the sterile visitation room was not.

 

Andrea overheard one daughter tell her father, “I’ve waited so long to hang out with you and play with you all day.”

 

And that’s just what they did. The dad later remarked to Andrea with a smile, “This has ruined visitation for me.”

 

Nothing we do at HeartBound is revolutionary or ground-breaking. What we do is quite simple. To borrow from Kepler, “we’re just thinking God’s thoughts after him”. Returning Hearts is simple – we turn the prison into a county fair/family reunion and give the guys an opportunity to do what they most want to do – to be good fathers. God wants us to be good fathers. God wants us to play. God wants us to love our children. All we’re doing is helping to make that happen within the walls and the confines of prison.

 

To see those children running around in the sunshine, to see fathers hugging their children while both shed tears, to see a volunteer put their arm around and pray for an inmate, is to see the hand of God.

 

A nonprofit worker was once asked how she worked with the poor. She replied, “You don’t. You share your life with the poor.”

 

Thank you for supporting HeartBound. For sharing your time, energy, and dollars with the poor, the downtrodden, the cast-aside, the incarcerated. You have made a difference and helped us do “exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ever ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

 

If you feel compelled to give and support HeartBound, you can do so by visiting www.givebutter.com/HeartBound.

 

Thank you.

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