The voice inside my head was relentless.

You are no good.  You are worth nothing.  No one would miss you if you were gone…if you DIED.  You don’t have the guts to run away; wouldn’t make it on your own anyhow.  There’s only one way out for you.  No one could ever want you.  That list of names you made…what would they say when they hear you’re dead:  not good enough.  But you can’t even finish this? Still not good enough.  You are still here. You are a failure at everything. Not good enough.  Never good enough.

I go to prison once a month.  I am a part of a ministry bringing the message of Christ’s love and grace to young men and women who have made choices which put them at odds with the law and gotten caught.

We go to tell them that second chances are possible.  Yes, even for them.  In reality, some of these kids never really had the first chance.  If I had to guess, they have internal dialogues very similar to the one I’ve written above.  These weekend retreats, and the two-hour “reunions” we hold once a month, are often the first tangible evidence they have that someone, anyone, loves them and is glad that they live.  They may have heard the name “Jesus Christ” before but many have never witnessed His work in the world.

Okay – the first logical question is:  ME?  in ministry? Are you serious?  I mean, look at my life.  Look at me.  Who am I to be bringing the message of God anywhere?

I am a fallen Catholic; a former atheist – followed by agnostic (teach me to read the existentialists!)  I spent many years just “being”…demonstrating no faith other than that which gave me permission to do whatever I wanted to do.  And I’m here to tell you that I made bad choices.

So what am I doing ministering to these kids?

To show them that I am right.  I’m NOT good enough.  I’ll NEVER be good enough.  But God is.  And if I let Him inside of me, He can make me good enough.  I am living proof that second chances abound in His kingdom!

Some other volunteers have mentioned a nagging feeling of…fear, doubt, insecurity, dread…when they enter the campus and watch those gates close behind them.  They look at all the razor wire-topped fences which surround them and they are afraid.  They’ve never been in prison and didn’t like the feeling of confinement.  I wondered why I never experienced that nagging sense of dread.

Until the memory came.  It was locked up – I’m not sure why – in the prison of my mind.

Everything my mother brought with her was locked in a little metal locker.  I’d never seen her surrender her purse before.  Our pockets were checked and they waved this wand all around us.  We walked through the heavy metal door and it closed behind us.

It was 1980; I was 11 years old, my sister was nine.  We had just entered the largest walled prison in the world to visit my mother’s husband.

I don’t remember everything.   I remember awe and amazement more than any other feeling.  The big guards with the guns on their hips stationed around the room and those further away with their rifles are really only scary in my memory.  I don’t think I knew enough then to even be scared.  I must have been afraid but my mom was there.  I was okay.

I remember sadness.  We could talk to my step-father but not touch him.  I didn’t know why then and I got in trouble quite often for trying.   The room was a haze of smoke and a smell I can’t pinpoint even now.  Is there a smell specific to caged humans?

I must have been afraid but my mom was there.  I was okay.  But I wasn’t.  It was dangerous.  My mom took me to prison the first time I went.  She kept taking me back until I didn’t even realize the fear.  Oddly, or maybe not, she spent a good part of my life holding the key on a more figurative prison.  She replaced the fear of the physical prison with a prison of emotional fear terror.

You may have guessed already, but that voice at the beginning of this post?  It’s my mom’s.  No, she didn’t say ALL those words.  She said too many of them.  Her treatment of me helped fill in the rest of the internal dialogue.

I was afraid.  But my mom was there.  That doesn’t seem like such a safe statement anymore, does it?  Torn between years of believing she was right and praying she isn’t keeps me locked in a prison to which I now hold the key.

In retrospect, no wonder it isn’t so bad to be in prison.  I am already there.  My own prison is all the worse because, although I hold the key, I don’t know how to use it to escape.  Yet.  I don’t want to stay here.  If I stay locked up, she wins.  I’m not good enough.  I’ll never be good enough.

So what am I doing ministering to these kids?  To show them that she is right.  I’m NOT good enough.  I’ll NEVER be good enough.

But God is.  And if I let Him inside of me, He can make me good enough.

I can almost guarantee that all of us, prisoner and volunteer alike, who stand within the chains of that prison have, at one time or another, been locked within the gates of another prison.  Some of us are further along in our journey out than others.  I think we have all been told that we were not good enough – that we would never be good enough.

But God is.

And that’s why I spend time ministering to these kids. I want to give them hope.  It isn’t going to happen overnight and we won’t be sure-footed at first; we’ll slip and fall.

I hope that by sharing my journey, it will open their hearts and give God the chance to make us ALL living proof that second chances abound in His kingdom!

Lest you think that my ministry is completely altruistic, I should let you know that I also go for their help.  Yes.  I need “incarcerated youth” to help me stay on the right path.  Their stories, their pain, their love, have begun to help me alter the voices.  I am slowly replacing them with voices of grace and understanding.  Voices of love and hope and faith.

Voices of POTSC.  I didn’t even know when I started this journey that it was a second chance for which I longed – or which I needed.  I have found a way out of prison.  Little did I dream the way out led in.