Last week I went to court. To testify as a character witness for Jamie. This week I went to jail. To pray with Jamie.
Though many were praying for him, the trial didn’t go well. He got thirty years – without parole. I think I felt almost as bad about it as he did. He’d been in the same jail a couple of years earlier – different charges – and I had gone several times to see him then. Things stabilized a bit; he got his GED and was out on parole. More serious crime this time. I knew he’d want someone to come pray with him.
The trial nearly broke my heart. Jamie grew up with an absent dad. So his mom entertained strangers regularly. Everybody around him was drunk. Everybody around him had needle marks in their arms. He couldn’t remember anyone ever telling him he was loved. I couldn’t hold back the tears when the attorney for the prosecution asked him why he had committed such a violent crime. His response, “I know I’m damaged goods.” I don’t think it was as much an excuse as it was an attempt to help himself understand his serious lapse in judgment and why he had caused the pain he did.
Ruthie and I shuddered as the judge, emotionless, read out the sentence: Thirty years without parole. If he was ever released he would be nearly sixty. Society saw him as a throw-away. God did not.
I spent an hour with Jamie today. Through a glass. I wanted to hug him; I couldn’t. I wanted him to know that God was hugging him. It’s hard to communicate that through an inch of bullet proof glass.
Talking on hard-wired phones that are recording every word. I assured him our names – his and mine – were in the Book of Life. Maybe on the “J page”…Jacobsen and Jamie. He smiled at the imagery.
But I learned something that gave me courage. In the weeks between his court appearances, Jamie began to get acquainted with Jesus. He quoted some verses he had memorized from the Gideon Bible in his cell. He and some of his buddies from cell block B would meet together after supper and pray. Sometimes he would give them a short “devotional.” About forgiveness. About mercy. About grace.
Jamie said it was really helping him to pray with his new friends. I asked him if he thought God could use his time here, kind of like a chaplain, to bless some of them before they moved him on from jail to prison. He liked that idea.
We talked about baptism; he brought it up. I talked to the jailer and he said they were sure they could help make the arrangements. Jamie told me he had come to know Jesus while he was in that jail and he would like to be baptized before he left.
Jamie recalled how he had spent most of his life in what he calls “a dark place.” But his sense now was that he had stepped into the light. Over the next thirty years his life may still be restricted, but for the first time, he’s truly free. I saw it on his face.
By Don Jacobsen (Hope-heals.org)