The place where I did prison ministry was in Chelsea, Michigan, near Ann Arbor. This place was a special project, where young men between 18 and 25 were sent because they were repeat offenders of crimes that were bad enough to put them in a regular prison, but not crimes like rape and murder. It was felt that sending young men to a regular prison would only harden them, and this project theorized that strict discipline, hard work, and exposure to Christianity would decrease the recidivism rate. Plus, the guys were helped to get their GED, and were placed in carefully monitored facilities once they finished their stint (120 days) and were not allowed to go more than so many miles away, except to go to church, for another 90 days. The developers of this project were right- very few of the guys returned to crime after finishing this program. I was privileged to do prison ministry here through my church, the Ann Arbor Vineyard. The fellas were called, “Trainees”, not prisoners, and they had long days. 6am wake-up call, 3 mile runs, breakfast, and then work, work work. Cutting down trees, carrying the huge timbers to various places for use later to repair buildings or build new ones. Boot camp drills. The guards would yell at them 6 inches from their faces, “Trainee Smith!” “Yes, Sir!” “Do another 2 miles. You didn’t clean the floors right!” “Yes Sir!”, etc. They were taught total immediate obedience and never to ask a favor from any guard.
The education building had 17 rooms for GED education and Bible ministry, and 20 to 25 guys in each room. The interactive Bible study on Saturday afternoons was not mandatory, but their only other choice was 2 hours of hard labor, so all 17 rooms were always full. I taught in the first room on the left at the end of a long hallway. The guards were rough and monitored the school hallways vigilantly. If they caught any Trainee nodding off, the Trainee was yanked from the room and made to do grueling work.
Toward the end of each Saturday lesson, the trainees were given a chance to take Jesus into their heart. One afternoon, Trainee Keck was one of 3 fellas who raised his hand. Just as the three guys stood up, a guard burst into our room and yelled, “Trainees Lance and Keck! Get out now and come with me!”
Then, 2 miracles happened:
#1)Trainee Edwards asked a favor of the Guard. “Sir, permission to speak, Sir!”
The guard: “What?”
Trainee Edwards: “Sir, Trainee Keck was just about to take Jesus into his heart, Sir. Take me instead.”
#2) The guard: “Trainees Lance and Edwards, come with me now!”