So…yesterday I was talking about the Richmond Jail, and at the bottom of the post, as a footnote, I put a link to some photographs by Eva Russo taken inside the jail. I warned my readers that the pictures were “graphic” and “disturbing,” and some of them were. This one is not: it’s a picture of a woman visiting her boyfriend at the jail. And when I look at her children, visiting with her, I think, “If they can do it, I can too.”
But let me be clear about this: jail ministry is not for everyone. When I say “there must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth” this is certainly one of the ways. But it may not be your way. Nonetheless, there are ways all of us can take part in this ministry.
I talked with Father Alonzo Pruitt recently, Chief of Chaplains and Director of Social Work at the jail, and asked him how Richmond’s First Baptist Church could help.
He said he could use all the help he could get.
He said there are 33,000 people who pass through the jail each year—“residents”—he called them, not “inmates.” He said they need a lot of things but some of those things are very simple. They need:
- Soap! He said, “If people in your church who travel could bring home some of those little hotel soaps and shampoos, lotions and conditioners, that would be a great help.”
- Underwear. Those “3-packs” of men’s briefs you can find in almost any department store would be much appreciated.
- T-shirts. Medium and Large, but especially the Extra Large and even 2X sizes would be helpful.
- Bras. Yes, bras, for the female residents, but please, Father Pruitt said, “No underwires.”
- Books and magazines, but be sure to remove the address labels from any magazines you might donate.
It was that last thing that really got Father Pruitt talking. He said the biggest problem residents face is boredom. “They’re here for 168 hours each week,” he said, “often with nothing to do. If your members could donate books and magazines, that would be great,” he said. “If you had a choir that could come down here and sing, that would be even better.”
“What about storytelling?” I asked. “I’ve got this great story about the time my brothers and I accidentally burned down our house.”
“Accidentally?” he asked (I could almost see him raising his eyebrows).
“Yes,” I said. “Accidentally.”
“Then come tell it,” he said. “That would be great.”
So, one of these days soon I’m going to go down to the Richmond Jail and tell that story. I’d love to bring boxes full of soap, shampoo, underwear, T-shirts, bras, books, and magazines. If you’d like to contribute, just bring your things to my office. And if you’d like to go with me when I tell that story…
…let me know.