“Man, you’ve got the saddest story I have ever heard”. I am shocked and in disbelief. I have just finished telling my story in front of death row inmates at the maximum-security prison in Potosi, Missouri. George whose mouth those words came out of was on death row waiting for his time to be put to death. He reminded me of the man who played the prisoner in the movie, The Green Mile. One of the biggest men I have ever seen. Ninety-nine percent of these men were in prison for issues that one way or another alcohol and drugs played a role.
My journey to this point started 6 years ago when I came into recovery. At that point I was willing to do anything to stay clean and sober and when a friend asked if I would participate in REC’s, residents (prisoners) encounter Christ, I said sure, not having a clue what that meant. I was working on 3 DWI’S, hadn’t paid or filed taxes in three years, my house was close to foreclosure, one car was repossessed, my wife and kids long gone, my business was close to being taken away, friends gone, I threw my father and siblings out of my life. If someone told me to jump off of a cliff to stay sober, I would have jumped. I was emotionally, physically and spiritually dead.
This was my first time working with death row inmates but it had the biggest impact on me. If I swerved just a little one of those thousands of nights driving home, I could easily be sitting in a maximum-security prison. Over the previous 6 years I had worked with prisoners in maximum-security prisons and once at a women’s prison. Each experience is unique and I had participated in about 10 REC’s to date.
REC’s are not a recovery program, it is run through Catholic Ministries. The bottom line is to let the prisoners know they are not alone, find Christ in their lives and seek salvation. Their families and friends don’t visit so they are always suspicious of why we are there. I am not a very religious person but some of what I witnessed during those REC’s was truly a miracle. It takes place over a long weekend. We do everything with the prisoners except stay over night. As you can imagine the guards watch closely over us and they do not really care for these weekends. It disrupts the daily routines. But wardens have said that when a REC is taking place the prison quiets down during and for a little while after. Prisoners are specially chosen and are only able to participate in one or two REC’s the rest of their lives. This is a very special occasion for them and they won’t let another prisoner get out of line for fear of losing their weekend.
We sing songs, tell stories, speak about Christ, have a rise day like Christ rose, a die day like Christ died. We wash each other’s feet as Christ did. We dine on the horrible prison food and act as it is the best food ever. I still remember the awful stench in the dining area to this day. We put on plays with the prisoners, bring in fresh vegetables and fruit, which the prisoners never have. On the final night we always have a local restaurant cater the final meal, kind of like the last supper. All in all an extremely powerful weekend, far from the bars and country clubs that I was used to. It is hard to describe the feeling I had when four or five prisoners had their hands on my head praying for me to help with my talk. I think I filled a bucket with tears. Nobody had ever prayed over me like that, what an emotional, moving moment that was. By the end of the weekend there are hugs all around and not a dry eye in sight, including the guards. We just spent almost 72 hours with these men and we know each other inside and out.