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Jail Chaplain Reflections | "In this dark place, I learned to love myself."

I often see chaplaincy as falling in love with the stranger. This happens multiple times when I step inside the jail. I first fell in love with Nancy when she came to Lynwood in 2018. At that time Nancy was guarded and and often pretty angry. But as she settled into life in the jail, she channelled all that anger into making the jail a better place and transforming her own life…opening her heart to God and others.

I was not surprised to see that Nancy was chosen to help open the FIP Stepdown Unit (Forensic Inpatient Stepdown Unit) at CRDF (Central Regional Detention Facility, the women’s jail in Lynwood).

You can learn more about the FIP Stepdown Unit here and here.

Nancy is a gifted leader with a fiery passion. She helped us establish regular church services, and she advocated for and organized our supply donation program. She created special programs for the women of FIP highlighting things like women’s empowerment, Black History, and self-care for the women. Nancy says to me almost every time we meet, “I just want to make this a better place for the women here.”

Nancy’s leadership and organizational skills are truly admirable, and the compassion and care she offers to her peers and to women dealing with mental illness is immeasurable. She helps women reunite with family on the phone and through letters, she helps prepare women for court, she makes special food to celebrate birthdays, and she counsels women by sharing her own story…all this while fighting for her life in court and doing Bible study with her three sons on the phone.

In a few days Nancy will be leaving CRDF to go to prison. It is a difficult and sensitive process to say goodbye to someone leaving for prison. Nancy received four 25-years-to-life sentences and one life-without-parole sentence to be served consecutively. We are desperate for a new paradigm for sentencing in our country. There are over 50,000 people in the United States serving LWOP and another 44,000 serving life sentences of 50 years or more. When I feel hopeless about our brutal sentencing practices, it is people like Nancy who inspire me. Nancy is confident she will one day be free and vows to work as hard as she can to make that happen for her children. In our last conversation I asked Nancy to share something about her time at CRDF, and without hesitation she said, “In this dark place, I found myself…I learned to love myself.”

Please join me in praying for Nancy and her family. You can make a donation to Nancy’s supply donation drive here.

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