All Choices Have Consequences
My husband and I spent our Memorial Day weekend visiting my sister in Missouri. She and her husband had toured the Missouri State Penitentiary, now closed, at an earlier time and thought we might find it interesting. So on a hot day, we headed to Jefferson City for the tour. I have not been in a prison before and have to admit I was a bit apprehensive about the experience.
Much of the wall around the structure has fallen down; but the wall that still stands has the barbed wire on it, which started the chills I would continue to feel throughout this tour. The insides of the buildings that remain are in rough condition, even though a great effort has been made to clean up and view as much as possible.
Our tour guides explained the history of the penitentiary and shared some personal memories and stories. Many of the guides worked at the penitentiary when it was still open. To help give us an idea of what they felt each day as they walked through the gate to report for work, they slammed the barred door shut. It was an eerie and frightful feeling as I wondered how I would have handled this ministry they had been called to do – because that truly must be what it was no matter what job they were doing. We all have choices to make each day in our lives.
I fully understand that the men and women who ended up at this penitentiary were there for the crimes they had chosen to commit. These were choices that had big consequences. Choosing honesty over deceit, kindness over cruelty, humility over pride are choices that matter. I would continue to understand these things as the tour unfolded.
As we listened to the stories and explanation of the history of this place, you could almost see and feel the presence of the people who had been there at some point. When this place was first opened, the thought of punishment for their crimes was the main emphasis. We heard about the overcrowding in the cells, the beatings from the guards and the inmates who would turn on the guards and kill them. There was even a riot that broke out, which resulted in the deaths of inmates and many buildings that burned down.
We saw the tiny cells that had no light at night, leaving the inmates in darkness as the doors to the cells slammed shut. It reminded me that, even though we are not “physically” in a cell, we can put ourselves in our own “cells,” choosing to live in darkness when we do not put God first in our lives. Finding God in the darkness requires the faith of reaching out and calling to those who can help us on our faith journey. When we do, we can find that God has been there the whole time.
We were told the only employees were the nurses and the guards; all other jobs were done by the inmates. My hope in this part of the tour was that these inmates may have taken the gift or talent they discovered during this time and used it in a positive way when they were released. As time went on, the focus turned to treating the inmates in a kinder and more humane way and helping them by offering them schooling. Again, even though the inmates were there for choosing to commit a crime, perhaps by offering this help, by showing them kindness as Jesus would have, they can make a different choice in life. Alone we are powerless and weak and can make bad choices; together, with God, we can be stronger.
There is countless more information about this place. I know I was guided there that day not only for its history, but to help me and, hopefully, others understand that all choices in life have consequences. Let our choices be made with the help of God, and result in what is best for us and all those He puts in our lives.