Now and then I’ve had the privilege of going on a caper with Bob Goff. That’s what he calls it when we do something a bit out of the ordinary. (Note: Most everything Bob does is a caper!) I’ve been with him to a meeting with 90 witchdoctors, inside the largest prison in Uganda, and way too close to some wild baboons.
This time, our caper took us to visit some guys in two jails, one in Michigan and one in Indiana.
We went as chaplains.
Part of capers is the art of disguise.
The first man we were to visit would most likely be sentenced to fifty years in prison within a few days of our arrival. Coming face to face with him made me nervous at first.
When we met him in the visiting room, he was dressed in an orange jumpsuit and wore Crocs of the same color. A short, thick chain linked the shackles around his ankles. His eyes were brimming with tears, moved that he had visitors. He had a look of quiet shock as he was facing not only the reality of what he had done, but also the fact that he would spend the rest of his life in prison.
He was polite, somber, and resigned.
Tears flowed as he spoke in whispers of his regret and his fear.
His eyes now said what his former actions did not.
He had indeed done awful things and should have been in jail, but our hearts went out to him. We were able to talk and pray with him, trying to offer what comfort we could. It was sad to leave.
From there we drove an hour to a prison in Indiana where forty inmates were in a book group studying Love Does. They’d written Bob to invite him to come for a visit, and he’d taken them up on the invitation.
We walked into a room.
And there they were waiting—the men jumped up and cheered. (I felt like I was with Bono, only Bob doesn’t wear red-tinted sunglasses.) The white board in the front of the room was decorated with their signatures and a big LOVE DOES in the middle.
As I looked around, I saw the glistening eyes from almost every man in the room. We talked with them and afterward took a group photo. Before we left, everyone wanted and received a hug.
On the drive to Chicago that afternoon, we thought about those men from the two prisons. When you meet people face to face, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, your perspective changes.
They become real.
Later that night, I checked into my hotel room. After I unpacked, I walked by a mirror. Peering into it, I saw myself in a prison uniform. And as I looked into my own eyes, I realized that what was true about the men in prison was true about me.
They were lonely and needed company. They wanted someone to look into their eyes and see them. They didn’t want to be defined by their worst day. They wanted a second chance.
But most of all, they all just wanted to go home.