Through a divine appointment, I was able to meet one of the chaplains from the Men's Central Jail in Los Angeles. I met him at a casual dinner in Orange County. He happened to sit next to me, and we introduced ourselves, and exchanged information. A few months later, I received an email from him, saying he was putting together a small group to come into the prison and minister. I said yes, and the next thing I knew things started to happen. When it was all said and done, as one thing led to another, and the Holy Spirit began to lead, both my brother and I were set to go in together with our two guitars to lead worship and stay for 5-6 hours. It was smooth planning. I knew it was God. We had to send in a copy of our licenses and be cleared for that day. Years ago, I remember going into the jail to lead in worship. But this was different, because now the Lord had put me into ministry for inmates. We met on a Saturday morning. There was the chaplain, my brother and I, two other ladies and another gentleman. The chaplain gave us some basic rules and in we went. If you have never been to a jail, it is very intimidating. And one of the rules was to address every staff and deputy as "Sir." We had to leave our licenses at the front booth window and were given a badge. At no time were we to leave the chaplains side. And most of the day, we traveled in these freight elevators which were old, clanky and noisy, from floor to floor. Below is not the MCJ jail itself, but a sample picture that I found online.
We were told that the prison itself housed about 5000 men. That it was like a city in and of itself. They had their own hospital, and also it was connected to the courts, to where they have to be seen. Our wonderful chaplain took us to where the chaplains offices were, and led us to a book room, filled with books and tracks that they hand out to the guys. We then began to load up 2 carts, filled with Bibles and devotionals, many different books on the cross and the various subjects about the Bible. We packed our guitars in a closet for a service that was to take place later. Filled with anticipation, we headed back on the noisy, clanky elevators to the single rows, where the actual cells of the inmates were. I have done worship before in prisons, but have never been that close to their cells before. I wasn't sure what to expect! The chaplain had sent us a Youtube video about the prison, but quite frankly, it was pretty scary! Your talking about the heart of Los Angeles where the gang territories are. And some of the videos were filled with tattoos and colorful bad language, yelling and other sorts of activity. I'm sure it was true of some of the mods, but he took us to a few of the mods that were a bit more tame, and quieted down that afternoon. Or maybe it was a set up from God to ease us into this place and not scare the living daylights out of us. The first place we went to was a gay ward, where the inmates were housed in one huge room with bunkbed rows lined up in rows. I've never seen so many gay men in one place. You had to see it to believe it! The men were sure glad to see us, we were a sight for sore eyes, for they knew we were giving free things and books away. A few of the free items that were in great demand to inmates were small address books, date calendars, golf pencils, blank paper, puzzles and things to pass the time with. We weren't allowed to go in there, but could freely pass books thru a barred window. All you saw were hands held out thru the window. My brother and I noticed women in there. We looked at each other in question as to why on earth would they mix men and women so freely in this place? Right down to the hair cuts, body parts, feminine facial features and such. It was amazing, but later we realized these were no women, but transgenders. The chaplain asked my brother to pray for one of the guys thru the bars. The the chaplain yelled above the noise and inquired if any one of us spoke Spanish. I did, and the next thing I knew I was touching an inmate hand to hand, praying for him. My brother Ernic noticed how eager they were to receive our books on God and materials. Praise God!
We then moved onto another freight elevator and proceeded to a certain mod to pray for inmates waiting for us directly in their cells. Yes, we were able to go down their rows, passing each cell. On one side was a wall that had 4 flat screen TV's that were playing during the day while we were there. As we walked this aisle, on the other side was each cell, about 5 by 8 ft. Each had a small bunk, a metal toilet, a metal table and I think there was a sink. I thought to myself. I would rather bunk alone than with a cellmate, and that is good that they have their own space. Some wanted books and even prayer. Others wanted to be left alone. And they let you know it. A few prisoners were sleeping. A few were reading the articles, books, while some were writing letters. All different races and all different ages. I noticed one inmate had his walls lined with pics from different baseball teams. He had made murals somehow by glueing magazine and newspaper clippings together. It was an experience I will never forget. Its not a place that you walk into cocky or a know it all type of attitude, actually I felt very humbled yet compassionate, afraid and intimidated. There were so many emotions going on inside of me. I didn't say to much, but observed and handed out books and materials to those that wanted them. Many were very happy to see us and thanked us for coming.
Next stop was a break for lunch in which we made our way to another bottom floor where the employees and deputies ate. It was run by the inmates, and on this particular day being a Saturday, the cafeteria was fairly empty. I saw a wonderful fresh looking salad bar and loaded up my plate right there. It was a good lunch. The six of us visitors breathed easy and got to know one another. But we did have a schedule to keep, and were anxious to know which stop was next.
Our next stop was to make our way towards the prison chapel for a service we were to take part of with the inmates. It was a long and large room, with high ceilings, maybe 200-300 max capacity, not really sure. There were wooden pews and the stage was set up higher. My brother and I got our guitars and music and set up. We began to play and sing softly some worship songs as the guys began to filter in on their own from the different mods. That day we had about 30 or so. On any given day it varies, depending on if the deputies in charge allow them to come, or if there is bad behavior etc. We were told that at any time a lock down was possible, and if happened we as well would be locked down and have to wait till any situations were under control. But thankfully on this day all went well. We then had a great worship service. The guys really enjoyed the worship and we had an awesome time singing with them. We had passed out sheets with the words of the songs. You could definately feel the presence of God in that room. The atmosphere was one of joy and peace. There were many inmates who were believers in this chapel. We sat down after, and our chaplain took it from there. He did a great job preaching and teaching. The guys asked him questions. There was a freedom to converse. We all laughed together. We were supposed to be done at 3pm, but went on for another hour and the guys were totally fine with that. Once in a while, as the hall way double doors were stayed open, you could see some of the higher security inmates walk by with a guard. They wore an orange jumpsuit, and were chained, and at all times with a deputy. After the sermon, we were allowed to pray with some of the men. My brother Ernie and I prayed with an african american man who had a court case coming up. We linked arms all together, huddled and prayed.
For our first time, I believe it went pretty well. And I know we will be going back again when the time comes. I am quite thankful that God opened this door, so that I could not just engage with inmates thru the mail and doing Bible studies, but by face to face, bringing the light of God, His sweet love, smiles of genuine kindness and compassion, right into the prison cells.
(All of these pics are not the actual prison that we went to, as we couldn't take any cells or photos there inside, I took these off the internet as samples to give you an idea)
Discovering real life