We hear some terrible stories in the jail. Some stories are so traumatic I will not repeat them unless I am with other jail chaplains. But it is the stories of heartbreak that haunt me daily. Last week Vanessa was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. She is 35 years old with four children ranging in age from 6 to 13 years old. We’ve been praying for her sentencing for months. Her lack of involvement in the crime combined with what she has achieved since being incarcerated had us all encouraged for a different outcome.
Three of us were sitting at a table (Vanessa’s two “bunkies” aka cellmates, and me) when Vanessa returned from court and told us the news. We all just sat in silence for several minutes. Vanessa broke the silence by saying, “I’m going to be fine but my kids, my kids….what’s going to happen to my kids?” Her bunkies rallied around her telling her they were going to be taken care of—one of her bunkies even offered to take them in when she got out in a few years. I watched the women comfort Vanessa. It was beautiful. They were providing care and support I could not offer.
I would like to think my words of support and prayers offered Vanessa some comfort, but I think I would be wrong. The only thing I am sure of is that we sat around that stainless steel table in silence held by a powerful, healing Love. In that silence Vanessa felt safe to share the deepest fears on her heart.
Days later I am still a mess of emotions inside. I feel angry we live in a world where we lock people up thinking it makes us safer. I’m afraid for the future for Vanessa and her children. And I feel sad and so very helpless there’s nothing I can do. Moments like this make me feel like I’m not cut out to be a chaplain while at the same time remind me why the work is so important to me. It’s always about the Love.
As I left the pod that day, Vanessa said, “Chaplain, will you write to me for the rest of your life?” I responded, “Absolutely.”