It was a great-sounding idea. Well, of course, all my reckless, youthful ideas seemed like the best thing ever, so why was this one any different? This brilliant scheme would have me bringing the church choir I was directing at the time, into the regional maximum-security prison to present our Christmas Cantata (a musical program that was de rigueur every year in our group of churches). I checked with the officials at the prison and they were amenable. I checked with the choir. They were enthusiastic to be doing something so evangelistic, out of the ordinary. So, we rehearsed and rehearsed. We received a list of protocols for our visit which I copied for the choir members. Things like, for the ladies, no excessive makeup, no jewelry, no watch, no nail polish, no perfume. Instructions for all were: no asking what crime an inmate was doing time for, no giving out of names, addresses, phone numbers, no promises of anything beyond the evening’s visit and, above all, no physical contact. The night of our visit couldn’t have been less enchanting. Dark, cold (Canada in December!) mist making the dark gray stone of the entrance, from the dimly-lit parking lot, look and feel closely related to a haunted castle. The reception inside was curt, emotionless, almost as if we were intruding. We were briskly shown the lockers where we were instructed to lock up purses, wallets, keys, coats, hats, boots, etc. (standard Canadian winter wear) – no exceptions! We were then led by a warden through a series of four barred ‘cages’ which were entered through barred steel doors which were then locked, the next doors then unlocked, each cage leading us deeper into the interior of the facility and further from any sense of ‘outside’. It seemed chillier somehow the further in we went. When we finally reached the room where we were to perform, the mood was somber to say the least. As the fifty or so inmates filed into the room along with an impressive number of guards, the realization of what I had gotten us into hit me with a thunk. Reading the stony faces of the inmates and guards was impossible, so I’m sure my voice creaked more than usual as I feebly made some ill-fitting lighthearted, introductory remarks. The musical went over well with much applause and the time of sharing afterwards, while at first a bit stilted, truly made us feel like we’d made an impact on these men. Or had these men made an impact on us? This cross-cultural experience had stretched us and bolstered our faith in ways that would continue to be revealed throughout that winter and beyond and we soon made plans to return the following Christmas. PD
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