This is the number of items the ladies at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women are allotted for the weekly quilting program. Eight pins, four needles, no more, no less. Lose them or forget where you placed them, things get VERY awkward and tense. Panic ensues.
I volunteer at the prison twice a month and help the ladies create simple quilts and pillows by hand. I first learned about this program through my church, (The Summit Church’s) initiative to bring the gospel to the prison.
One woman I have grown quite fond of is “Sally” (not her real name). With a scheduled release date of early August, Sally is probably in her mid-30’s. She greets me with an easy smile and wears her chalky mint uniform as well as one can. The hint of mascara (or the prison equivalent) makes her face youthful, dare I say pretty. Sally’s nimble fingers are a stark contrast from most of her peers. Their hands often shake and have nerves such that they can’t focus on pulling thread through a needle consistently.
Sally remembers my name which is also unique. Last week, another inmate “Erin” needed some help and yelled, “Lady!” even though I had told her my name only minutes before and we’ve spent time talking on several occasions.
Sally’s quilts are among the best constructed. The lines on her fabric are straight; the stitching of similar distance and shape. I wonder if Sally realizes her potential, I see glimpses of victory in her life.
Honestly I find it hard to even imagine Sally committing a crime. She has such a gentle countenance.
And yet, there she is.
Soon she will be released from prison. Sally will no longer be told what to do. Her pockets won’t be inspected. She can then use scissors that really work and buy her own fabrics and notions. She will be able to come and go as she pleases with only a few limitations according to rules given by her probation officer.
Heck, Sally can even fancy to sport an underwire bra upon her release if she so chooses. Based on my observations, if I were released from prison, it would be my first purchase. Supportive undergarments are strictly forbidden in prison but trust me, VERY desperately needed.
We sat on the carpet in the special programs room. Instead of volunteer and inmate, it was like two friends crafting together. Straightening and stretching her quilt top, I offered some assistance though Sally really didn’t need it.
A little later on, while helping another inmate, a song came on the radio. I heard Sally singing. “My God is awesome. He can move mountains. Keep me through the valley. Hide me from the rain. My God is awesome. Heals me when I’m broken. Strength when I’ve been weakened. Forever He will reign…”
I perked up and pondered. Could I be singing this song if I were in prison?
“Do you like this song?” I inquired, partly surprised to hear someone in prison knowing the lyrics. I hear this song frequently at church and almost always lift my hands in praise. I guess it surprised me to hear a woman in prison singing these words so freely.
She looked at me and with a gentle Southern twang said, “I do.”
Each time I visit, I fight every temptation to never return. The buzz of the prison doors unlock to let me in is like a lightening bolt going through my body every time. It rattles me to the core. Even so, I’m not deterred. I’m not there on my own strength.
This is the video that I saw at church which first peaked my interest. The Lord spoke to my heart. http://www.summitrdu.com/about/stories/
These are two videos of men who are involved in prison ministry and experiencing transformed lives!
As I consider my own struggles and pain, Sally comes to mind and so does God’s Word. Romans 5:3-5
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about all of this! Leave a comment, it encourages my soul!