I could not stop staring at the coiled barbed wire that lined the top of the chain-link fencing. This is what the women of Las Colinas Women’s Detention Facility look at every day. When they brought us through the hallways, the inmates had to face the walls and not dare budge while we passed through. It reminded me of children in school who were once disciplined by time outs in the corner of the classroom. All that was missing were the dunce caps, although the prison uniforms with the big black letters, “SD Jail” stamped on the back exceeded such a disgraceful label.
For days on end I kept asking myself, “How is it that one can fall so far?” Something seems amiss when a woman is living out her years behind bars. I have since learned that 31% of women in prison have been sexually abused. Makes perfect sense; self-worth was robbed at childhood and it has not been regained.
Every ounce of me yearned to sit with these women for hours until they turned their lives over to Jesus, yet I only had 20 minutes with each group we visited. At one of the stops, the women were not behind the fencing. I accidentally left my husband Dan’s guitar case behind and had to run back to pick it up. Upon my return, I was greeted by three teary-eyed women who begged me for a hug. I had forgotten that I was forbidden to have any physical contact with them and did not think twice about their request. Hugging is not permitted because inmates are known to steal things from you without your immediate detection. In my naivety, I would have never dreamed that the motive of theft could be disguised beneath tears and a brief moment of human need.
This entire experience reminded me of the woman at the well. Jesus knew her heart, He understood the intricacies of her life, and she knew without question that she had been in the presence of God. Scripture tells us that we are called to a ministry of reconciliation as a result of our own encounter with the Savior (1 Corinthians 5: 17-18). The woman at the well was living in denial, but Jesus took the time to speak truth into her life and was able to break through her façade. As a result, she knew with absolute certainty that she was understood, valued and loved. An act of kindness paired with words of truth changed her life and impacted a community.
Sin has a way of being contagious and many of these precious women at the detention center have been abused for so long that they do not know how to do anything other than abuse themselves or the society that does not seemingly defend them. Some look at you through the fence laughing, joking and seem oddly unaware that they are in fact caged. Sadly, it is those who live in a state of blame and rationalization who completely miss the opportunity for personal change. In the Bible Study, “Anointed, Transformed, Redeemed, A Study of David,” Kay Arthur emphasizes that, “Sin will take you farther than you ever wanted to go and will cost you more than you ever wanted to pay.” I believe that the women who wept realized their actions had indeed cost them more than they ever wanted to pay. God promises that He will give us a way out of a sin situation, but some push beyond the borders and enter into territory that eventually reduces them to wearing a suit labeling them as something God never created them to be.
When I reflect upon the image of the barbed wire, though metal, it reminds me of the crown of thorns that was placed upon Christ’s head the day of His execution. He came to this world to meet us in the cells where we dwell and He did so not by standing on the outside looking in. Instead, He entered into our world, wore the barbed wire, took the nails and suffered an undeserved execution as an exit plan from the prisons we have chosen as our homes.
The prisons in which some of us are held captive and the labels we wear can be manifested in many ways. The good news is that God will send His Son to meet us where we are, rattle our cages and remove the scales from our eyes. He will come, be assured. When He does, listen closely. He will sing and speak into our lives to let us know that those chains do not have to be permanent. By the power of His Spirit, He will awaken our complacency or rationalization and present us with the opportunity for freedom. We must then decide what we will do with our divine appointment with the Savior. Sadly, some of us will choose to remain in chains and will continue to wear a label of disgrace instead of one that says, “Loved Beyond Measure.”