On Father’s Day this year, I went with two other women from our Meeting’s jail ministry team to the county jail here in Cincinnati. Our arrival and entry followed the usual pattern. We waited, went through security, rode the elevator up, then walked toward the pod where the men were housed.
As we approached the pod, I felt a wave of anger and fear. It surprised me. I don’t usually sense others’ feelings, especially not without seeing the people first. I didn’t get anxious. My inward response resembled curiosity. It was like the Christ in me was saying, “I’m getting the sense that we’ve got some work to do here.”
When we entered the pod, I heard one of the corrections officers talking loudly and brusquely as he rounded up the men for worship. The tone of voice of most corrections officers has a hard edge to it, but this was more harsh than usual. This voice was reflecting and attempting to contain anger and fear.
About thirty men gathered for worship. We followed our program: Welcome, introduction to Quakers, reading, song, overview of Quaker-style worship, silence, joys and concerns, closing. During the service, the corrections officer paced then leaned against the railing of the catwalk.
I don’t know when it started, whether it was my saying that Quakers believe that there is “that of God in everyone” and so we have a deep respect for every person, or if it was when Evie read from one of Howard Thurman’s books, whether it was Mary Kay’s prayer, or if it was when one of men prayed that their families not be brought down by them that day. Whatever it was, whenever it was, by the end of the service, we were at peace. We lingered in a sense of community.
That morning, all of us, thought about fatherhood. We considered how we had been affected by our fathers. Some pondered what kind of father they were, how they were affecting their children even then by being in jail.
We also learned from the One who created fatherhood, created us. We came to see that the harm and the hurt, the shame and the guilt, arose not from God but from human error. God was there to teach us that we were loved beyond measure, beyond what we had known, beyond what we had done. We learned that our Father in Heaven was reliable and did not hurt you. He loved us and wanted to build us up.
We were changed that morning. Maybe the Presence of the Holy Spirit was there for only a short time, but we all shared in it for a while. Love, hope, even joy was present. I trust it remains in us in some portion even still.