Wednesday, April 22, 2009

When My Mind Wanders

Last week on my way to Idaho and then on my way home, I had a lot of time to just think. The kids were in the back either watching movies or playing on their electronic games and I was alone with my thoughts in the front. You’d think that with as many hours as I had to think that I would have come up with a great, new invention or a solution for my husband’s business or, at the very least, I would have decided on a wall color for my bedroom. But instead my mind wandered to a very unusual topic. Prison.

I don’t know anyone in prison and I think I’ve only rarely even given any thought to prisoners. But a few of things have happened recently to turn my thoughts to this topic. Just a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a fellow alumnus from my high school. I didn’t know, but he sent a group email to all of us who were signed up at the high school site for our graduating year. He was asking for support from anyone who would write a letter to the governor to petition for a pardon. Soon after graduating high school, he was convicted for passing bad checks and forgery. Since his release, he has earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree and is working on his doctorate and has, by all accounts, “stayed out of trouble”. I immediately wondered what I would hope for if that was me or my child. It’s very true that our actions have consequences that last much longer than our short-sighted view sometimes is.

Also, two times in different places, I have heard someone say a prayer and bless the prisoners. Not any specific prisoners, just prisoners, like we pray for the sick or those ready to hear the message of the Lord. I have never thought to pray for them before that first time. If you think about it, they do really need our prayers. I learned from the example of these two people.

The third reason I started thinking about prison was my visit to the Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise. We watched a short video and then toured the grounds and buildings. There was a sign there that said that there was a 10-year old and an 11-year old that served time there, along with the many adult prisoners. I thought of my children and couldn’t even imagine that life for them. I wonder what happened to those poor children.

I had been thinking so much about prisoners after the tour that I looked up prisoner on, interested in finding what others have said in talks or in Ensign articles about prisoners, but I didn’t really expect to find much. I really haven’t heard much taught in church about the topic. In my recent search, I did find a few articles. I learned that the former apostle Elder Ashton used to direct the Unified Social Service system, which included detained youth and prisoners. They started family home evening groups, aided in rehabilitation programs in prison and after their release. President Kimball even went to the prison and met with a couple of prisoners if you’d like to read about it here. One prisoner was serving time for burglary and the other manslaughter. President Kimball had a picture taken with both of them and then said, “It is an honor for me to have my picture taken with you.” I don’t know what I would have said, but I’m sure that wouldn’t have even entered my mind.

As I was reading the articles I found, I read this scripture mentioned Matt. 25:36. Immediately I stopped. Does it really say that? Well, you probably know it does, but I pulled my scriptures out. I had even highlighted it long ago. I remembered the hungry and naked parts, but I didn’t remember “I was in prison.”

As I was thinking about why that part may be a bit harder to obey, I thought that it was easy to think of Jesus hungry or in need of clothes or shelter, but he would never do anything that these people did to end up in prison. And yet, Jesus did end up in prison. Then I read Don L. Searle’s article “In Prison, and Ye Came unto Me”. There were two quotes that really impacted me.

“Once, Bishop Enniss felt reluctant to deal with an inmate whose crimes were especially repugnant. The strong impression came to him, in the words above, that the Lord loved the inmate as a son and wanted someone to help him return home. Bishop Enniss remembers another time when he felt ‘I don’t have a blessing for that man.’ Then the words came to his mind: ‘They’re not your blessings, they’re mine,’ and the Lord pronounced a blessing, through the bishop.”

And this one: “He is one of my sons, and I want him back. If you won’t work with him, I’ll find someone who will.”
They helped me see how much our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love each one of us, not just those of us trying to be good, not just those of us who are struggling day to day and may have forgotten Them, but each and every one of us. Heavenly Father knows them by name as well. I am not saying that I am ready to go visit random prisoners, but I have started praying for them and I feel a compassion for them that I never have. I do feel that they should pay the consequences for their actions, but that I am not their judge here or in the eternities. Only Heavenly Father knows all of their circumstances (mental, family, etc.) and only He knows their hearts and if they would be willing to change if given the chance. I also want to donate some good books to a prison so that possibly one person can have the chance to feel our Heavenly Father’s love for them and will want to change because of that new knowledge.

I don’t know if the man I spoke of earlier who sent the email and is hoping for a pardon will get it, but I now look at him and am grateful for his example. I don’t know his childhood circumstances. I don’t know what happened to him in prison, but I can’t imagine that it is easy to rise above all the negativism and anger that must exist there. He shows me that people really can change and it isn’t just a great story like in Les Miserables.

I also thought of an analogy while I was at the prison. Because of their bad choices, the prisoners have many limitations put on them, like where they can be at any given time and how much light is coming in. Jesus is our light. He gives us comfort and intelligence and helps us to see with an eternal perspective. When we make bad choices, we are not worthy of as much of His light. Our choices in life are limited in many cases. For the prisoners in the general prison, they have 3 solid walls, but one door has bars so light from the windows can shine in. However, that light is limited. The sun still shines brightly outside whether or not they can see it. (Cool how the sun and the Son sound the same in English.) They can see some of the light, but they cannot go out and bask in it whenever they choose. I know that in my life, when I make a choice that I know is wrong, I can feel a difference in how close I am to my Savior.
The prisoners in solitary confinement at this prison have 3 solid walls and a solid door with just a small hatch that the guards choose to open or close for food. Besides that small hatch the only other light there comes in through a very small air hole in the ceiling. Because of their worse choices, their light and movement are even more limited. The more bad choices we make, the further from the light of Christ we move ourselves.
I also think it’s interesting how the 3 degrees of glory are described in terms of light. Those inhabitants of the “solitary confinement” of the telestial kingdom will not get as much light as those in the terrestrial and neither as much as those allowed to bask in the light of the celestial kingdom.

This is my final quote from “I Was in Prison, and Ye Came Unto Me” by Victor L. Brown

"Certainly these young men were faced with serious problems. Yes, they had lost their physical freedom by being confined in jail, but this was not the basic problem. Even more serious was the lack of purpose in their lives. They had no place to go. They were lost. Life had no meaning. They had no idea why they were here on earth or where they were going.

“Release from the prison would not begin to solve their most urgent problems; and yet, in the environment of prison, they found the release that could ultimately make them truly free men. They found their Savior, Jesus Christ, and his gospel.”


  1. Valerie this is a great topic.
    My dad worked in the Juvenile Hall for 25 years in San Francisco - He saw the worst of the worst kid offenders. So sad some of those situations. Then he worked at the prison in Boise and saw the most dangerous criminals in that facility.
    He often felt sorry for them because some of the ones who tried to reform often went back to their law breaking ways because society would not give them a break once they got out of prison.
    I think it is very brave of this man to write a letter to High School people asking for support now that he has turned his life around. I hope it works out for him because for a very high percentage it does not.
    I know our Heavenly Father loves his children that are in prison and hopes that they find the light.
    I like how you likened the 3 degrees of glory to the different amounts of light - Very much food for thought. Now my mind will wander!
    Great Post!!

  2. You are so awesome, Valerie! I loved this post; you gave me so much to think about in a way I have never thought of it.


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