Maybe you’ve seen them on the evening news, never their faces but their feet shuffling along in shackles. Their names and faces must not be published because they are minors.
Carolyn Salley and I get to know these girls through our participation in the Chaplain program, sponsored by the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry. We take turns visiting them on the days when they are transported from Rankin County to stand before a Lauderdale County judge. These girls are our neighbors, having been arrested in Lauderdale County.
On my first visit to Juvenile Hall, I went expecting to find “bad girls” who would probably be rude and indifferent; instead, I found lost children, many of whom seem to be fending for themselves in the midst of unstable circumstances. Sometimes mama has a drug problem or some mental illness. Maybe daddy is very abusive or he just isn’t there. On occasion, a girl will admit that although her parents have provided a good home she rebelled and became involved with the wrong crowd.
There are black faces and white faces, some wearing smiles, some bearing tears, and some looking much older than their actual years. As I talk with them, I write their names in my prayer journal.
Beside each name I make a note to remind me of something that makes each special: “She sang a song for me … She writes poetry … She asked me to pray that her family will be safe from gunshots in her neighborhood … This child has a little boy who is being raised by someone else …This 15 year-old admits to having a terrible anger problem … She tells me she was raped when she was 8 years old ...
Each child has already begun to pay a penalty for her bad choices. If she does not learn from this experience, or if there is no grandmother saying daily prayers for her, or if there is no teacher or neighbor who will try to help, she could, after a birthday or two, end up in “Big Jail” and go on to serve time in prison.
My message to each girl is always the same: God loves you, no matter what you’ve done. You are special in God’s eyes. He will forgive you, but He will not change your life by force. However, if you will repent of your sins and submit your life to Him, He will help you live the life you were born for — it’s your choice.
I often ask: “If Jesus walked into this room today, what do you think He would say to you?” Recently, a young girl responded: “I think Jesus would say that He has a plan for my life, and that He is not done with me yet.”
I watched while she was handcuffed and shackles were placed on her ankles. She then shuffled awkwardly into the hallway to wait her turn before the judge.
If you believe in prayer, pray for the kids who wear shackles — they are our neighbors!
Virginia Dawkins may be contacted at email@example.com.