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From prisoners to poets

“Why place inmates at a site with a breathtaking view of the confluence of the James and Warwick rivers, unless one were trying to rehabilitate prisoners into poets?”

The barn at NN city farm
The barn and farm in Newport News

Why indeed! This quote comes from a 1991 Daily Press editorial on the Newport News City prison farm, a sizeable piece of property run by the City prison and maintained by prisoners. The renewed interest in the property has landed it in the paper recently with critics saying that the land should be used for the public – meaning the law abiding citizens and good folk – and that it’s wasted on the dirty, rotten scoundrels who landed themselves in jail and shouldn’t be there to enjoy the views.

Whatever your thoughts on that, it reminded me so much of a similar story I once heard. It went something like this. There were two sons. The younger son ran off and got himself in trouble. Big trouble. When he came back though, the father welcomed him and gave him a big party and lots of nice things. The older son was all put out about it though. Any of this sound familiar??

It also made me think of the time when this perp was convicted and died by getting nailed to a tree. But as he hung there, he saw a man next to him and he pleaded for mercy. And he got it. And when he died, he got the kind of breathtaking view the good folk in Newport News can only dream about for now.

Why would you want to turn prisoners into poets? That’s not the right question. The question is why would you NOT? Why don’t you want them to realize the potential and beauty of life and its quiet, serene moments of peace? Why don’t you want someone who has made bad choice after bad choice, for any number of reasons, to be given a glimpse into a kind of life he only saw in movies before. Or worse, never saw in his entire life? Why wouldn’t you want the prisoner to behold such beauty and hope? Who needs it more than those imprisoned and in the dark?

And it occurs to me that this is the freedom we have – all those who believe and place all our bets on the saving blood of Jesus. We were given this access – this view of glory – even while we were still imprisoned by sin and death and fear. Even when our very own actions and hearts landed us in that jail, deserved punishment by all accounts, our heads were turned toward the glorious redemption, the only one we could hope for, the hope of glory – this beautiful mystery.

It makes us into poets. It makes us into artists. It makes us into songsters and minstrels. It makes us into princes and princesses. We must be. And who are we to deny this view to any other? Don’t you long for everyone to see it? My heart rejoices when one wayward sinner lifts up her head and sees, maybe for the first time, the beauty of grace and hope offered freely to her. I want so much for every prisoner in this work to turn into a poet – to truly see meaning and purpose and the extraordinary gift of life in new ways that will inspire them to live a whole new way. I know this is the work of the Spirit and He is calling – to you – to every prisoner – to be set free, to see others as equally free. “Thank God Almighty.”

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