Yesterday I was a guest at the banquet given by the Federal Correctional Institute for volunteers, in appreciation of their services. I think it was the best banquet yet. The decorations by the inmates were lovely, the food was top-notch, and the entertainment, by the women from The Camp, was memorable. The Camp is the low security section of the prison, and that is the part of the prison where we go as volunteers. FCI is a women’s prison now but a few years back it was a men’s prison and we were able to volunteer both at the Camp and at the FCI proper. All of which means we have been going there to hold prayer meetings, to fellowship and to sing, for close to twenty years.
I am the only one in our group who has a pink prison pass which means I’m supposed to be escorted wherever I go, even to the Camp. And the reason for that is that I have a previous history of being imprisoned myself. As a member of Operation Rescue under the leadership of Randy Terry back in 1988 we started to go en masse to abortion “clinics,” sit down in front of the door, and pray and sing, effectively closing the facility for the day. The police called us protesters but we called ourselves rescuers, as our purpose was to rescue the unborn babies that were scheduled to be killed that day by abortion. Over the years, according to my records, I took part in 34 rescues and was arrested 19 times. I have previously written an overview of the Rescue movement. There are many people alive today because of what Operation Rescue did in the eighties and nineties. They may well make a difference in the way the world turns!
As a result of my experience both as a prison visitor and a prison inmate, I have come to the conclusion that the populations both in and out of prison are pretty much the same. We all make stupid mistakes or sin, some of us get caught and some don’t. At the banquet yesterday it was a delight to find that one of the ladies who was a regular attendee at our prayer meetings, Aimee, had been chosen to give the welcome speech to the volunteers. Many of the ladies there have been sentenced to prison for a number of years, and Aimee was happy to inform us that this would be her LAST volunteer banquet! Go, Aimee! She will be a sterling citizen!
Some of the songs on the program were original by the inmates, others had a gospel flavor (Daughters of Grace, for example). The Sweet Caroliners turned the old song, Sweet Caroline, into one addressed to us as “sweet volunteers.” I wish I knew the name of the young woman who danced with extraordinary grace and power. I have no idea why she was in prison but I pray she will soon be free to share her talent on the outside. Everyone knows Amazing Grace, a fitting finale in which all of us took part.
As an aside, we had a spare chair at our table which was filled by a volunteer from PVS (Prisoner Visitation and Support) which turns out to be the only nationwide organization allowed to volunteer at Federal prisons and military installations. Interested?