Meridian Star

December 18, 2013

Christmas in jail

By Virginia Dawkins
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     “The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity, hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory, because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor, and was born in a stable so that 33 years later He might hang on a cross.”  — J.I. Packer


The giant tree in the plaza is ablaze with lights. Wreaths swing from lampposts, and garlands climb storefronts, as I drive through town. A church tower sends forth the strains of “Silent Night,” and the music fades away as I walk into the Lauderdale County Correctional Facility on Saturday before Christmas.

    I approach the window at Central Control; the officer in charge nods and presses a button that unlocks the first door. I enter, sign the volunteer book, and follow two female officers through five more doors that click open and clang shut. With the last clang, I am inside the women’s pod.

    The gray, windowless room has no tree, no decorations, no signs of a festive holiday, but there are smiles that greet me. The women circle around and we hold hands to pray The Lord’s Prayer.

    They settle down around me, young faces atop shapeless uniforms. I read from the book of John, discussing the images used to illustrate who Jesus is: the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for us, the Bread of Life who satisfies our spiritual hunger, the Light who guides us, the Good Shepherd who leads us, the True Vine who gives us life, and the Counselor who comforts and teaches us. I explain that Jesus can give them all they need for a new life.

    We talk about the first Christmas and question how Mary must have felt about having her baby born in a stable. We wonder why God chose such a place, and we wonder if Mary was fearful that night.

    As we ponder, the ancient scene becomes more real; I see tears and somber expressions. The subject of motherhood is a tender spot in the hearts of many incarcerated women who have known the pains of childbirth. Even now, someone in this group is pregnant with child and will leave jail momentarily to deliver, give her baby into the care of DHS, and return to jail. What will the future bring for that child?

    Shouts of “Merry Christmas!” usher me out. Six doors lock behind me as I follow the officers out. When I am on the festive street again, tears come as I remember the women I left behind, those who have been captive to drugs, alcohol, deceptive men, and the rampant evil of this world.

    The strains of “Silent Night” follow me as I drive through the city toward home, pondering the real meaning of the lighted trees, the wreaths, and the carols: Christmas — the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ — means that there is hope for pardon and a new beginning for damaged and hurting people. Christmas means that there is hope for each of those women who receive what Jesus came to offer.