My son turned nineteen last October. An age for most that is full of promise and new beginnings. Eddie spent his birthday behind bars. He became a convicted felon before he even had a driver’s license or a high school diploma. Not an accomplishment to celebrate. Instead of seeing him off to college, I spent over an hour in the card section of the grocery store searching for one honest word I could say to him. There are no words left, only the crushing weight of his actions and the plaguing questions of my heart. I left the store that day empty-handed and loaded with grief.
Last spring, Eddie graduated high school at the facility. I was invited up for his commencement ceremony. This was only my second visit to see him in the last year. No cameras or presents allowed. Nothing in or out with me. After we made it through security, I waited anxiously in a crowded corridor with the other families to be escorted back in small groups. I stood with my back against a wall facing the operations center, where uniformed guards behind glass windows were monitoring activities on security monitors. A wall of handcuffs behind them served as a grim reminder of where we were. The event was impressive though. The graduates were dressed in slacks, ties, caps, and gowns. The gymnasium was decorated with a balloon archway, and there was even a high school band brought in to play. There were many elements like any other graduation ceremony. I felt sorry for the girl playing the bass. She started flat on “Don’t Stop Believing”, and had to stop to tune her guitar. As she shrank in embarrassment, I held my breath in the lingering moments before she began again. I thought the flat note rang true to how difficult it is to keep believing in such dire circumstances. I couldn’t imagine the pressure the girl must have felt to carry such a tune before a crowd of convicts. The bleachers in front of the band were packed with hundreds of noisy inmates in matching gray sweat suits.
But something else was going on in that place that day. A great hope was rising from the families gathered. There was an air of revival in the place. A couple of the mother’s were very vocal during the ceremony, and as the speakers offered words of encouragement to the graduates, they yelled out things like, “That’s right, that’s right” and “Amen, say that”. It felt like church instead of a graduation. One mother in spiked heels stood jumping and shouting out to her son with such passion that she nearly fell down. It was a classic revivalist scene; a woman nearly faint with emotion, supported by a crowd of others holding her up and fanning her with a program. The infectious mood did much to lift my spirit in this somber, surreal moment.
The most comical element of the day was the corrective lenses worn by the inmates. The prison-issued eyeglasses were all identical. From my seat on the floor, it looked a Steve Urkle costume party. A massive sea of big-eyed onlookers waited with even greater anticipation than the mothers for this brief moment of high school nostalgia to begin. I ached for them over where their lives had led them. I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched my son across the gym. He wasn’t wearing his party glasses until they started the slide presentation with notes from home. Eddie ducked his head down low and discreetly slipped on his glasses for just that one moment, so that he wouldn’t miss the message I had written to him. He tucked the glasses back inside his shirt pocket before he came forward to receive his diploma. He would rather stumble blindly than look like a fool; a poignant parallel to his life. I prayed all the boys there would begin to really see from wearing the corrective lenses of prison time. The principal called them to hope by saying, “Where you are does not determine who you are or what you can become”. A former inmate, released only two months before, spoke of his time there. He urged them never to forget the lesson, “It’s not that you are in jail, but that the jail is in you”.
All of this came back to me this morning, because today Eddie was released after more than a year of incarceration. I woke early to pray for my son as he took his first steps to freedom. I prayed he would carry forward an increased wisdom from the lessons gained during this time there. But even more importantly, I prayed Eddie would be overwhelmed by the majesty of a Great God, whose goodness and mercy has followed him through every dark turn of this entire, sordid ordeal. I prayed Eddie would fall before His God in worship and surrender, and then rise to the new beginning graciously set before him this day.
“As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortress, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you” (Zechariah 9:11-12).
Eddie has never known a time of real freedom. He has spent most of his life confined to a spiritual “waterless pit” – a place of torture and certain death. As his mother, I’ve spent years trying to free him by any means possible. Futile attempts against forces I did not recognize, could not see, and had no power to combat. I have now taken my proper place, behind the Mighty Fortress of my Lord Jesus Christ. I am a “prisoner of hope” believing in His promised redemption. I stand watching for Eddie’s deliverance more than the watchman waits for the morning. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning” (Psalm 130:5-6).
Today the morning has broken. The faithful sun rises yet again in the sky. The True Light who gives light and life to all men is already shining. I pray today is the day the morning truly comes to my son. That Eddie would see and walk in the Light. I praise my God who pursues us in steadfast love and leads us in the way everlasting. I wait in hope for His salvation that is as sure as the dawn.