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Posts Tagged ‘finding God’

By Michael Gerace

There are about 1,400 inmates at the Richmond City Jail (RCJ). It’s not easy to meet with them. Before any visit, there’s a background check. Then at the jail there is an electronic and physical security check, then three locked doors to the hallway of tiers. Finally I’m inside and near the inmates, who walk in escorted lines, most with their heads down. If I focus, eventually one will look at me. And I wonder, “Who is this man?”

calloutPrison Ministry by Lennie Spitale suggests that inmates share certain psychological and emotional profiles. They see themselves as outlaws and gravitate to people like themselves. They seek empowerment and significance from this environment because they know how it works and fitting in gives them a sense of belonging. In prison the normative emotion is anger; tempers flare with little provocation and often between good friends. One cause of this anger begins with rejection in their families of origin, although most criminals cannot identify this source.

This anger leads visitors to be cautious, but as a student at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond (BTSR) and chaplain at RCJ, I cannot let fear for my safety keep me from a deeper encounter with an inmate. I cannot stop asking the question, “Who is this man?”

Who is this man?I believe that finding God in myself and others is what healing is all about, so “really seeing” the incarcerated is ultimately a spiritual process that helps them really see themselves and heal. New Testament scripture points us in this direction: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

In one-on-one counseling with inmates I see below their anger. Many times I see the wounds of abuse and trauma. Often I see a frightened little boy who has developed an identity tough enough to survive a childhood jungle. For children to grow into healthy adults, they need to have all their needs – physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual – met. Few of these were met in a typical inmate’s childhood, so beneath the surface is an immature adult who was not provided with what he needed in order to grow into a healthy adult. In this we can relate to inmates: I believe we are all in the process of fully freeing the part of us that God made like Him. Until we do, we are all incarcerated at some level.

So when I really want to know “Who is this man?,” I slow down to first connect with him, to look beyond the anger, false identity and fear. I start to look for the little boy. This requires patience, compassion, and the desire to include this person in my life. When the inmate begins to show me what is below his surface, he needs time, patience, presence, caring, and much listening on my part. The little boy comes into the light of Christ Jesus that I can provide for him. At first the light is shocking and painful but he begins to see and then to heal. Through the grace of God and with the inmate’s cooperation, something starts happening, just as in the Holy Scripture: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”
(Matthew 18:3).


Michael GeraceMichael Gerace is a Chaplain at the Richmond City Jail where he leads a regular weekly worship service and provides pastoral counseling to inmates on the drug recovery tier. Formerly he worked as a research chemist, inventor and business owner. He is currently in his final year of seminary at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.

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