My brother (who I've mentioned in this and this post) has been going through a LOT! He was given a 4 year sentence and in the 5 months that he's served already he lost 40 pounds and nearly died! I can't even begin to tell it all! But God is good, oh so very good, ALL the time!! Anyway, this past week he was moved to FCI Fort Dix in NJ. Last night I tried to google FCI Fort Dix to see what it was like. Didn't find a whole lot of description, but somehow (God!!) I ended up at a page with articles written by Chaplains in training. I have contacted the writer of the following article and she has given me permission to share this with you. I may not be able to describe FCI Fort Dix, but I sure know what she's talking about here!! May you be blessed and encouraged!
An intern's reflection from FCI Fort Dix, N. J.
By Katy Fitzhugh
The 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel speaks about how one meets Christ through visiting those in prison, and that is exactly what happened to me. Granted, as someone preparing for ministry, I had met God before the doors locked behind me my first Sunday at FCI Fort Dix, but the inmates have shown me the active presence of God in a way that no other pastor, professor, seminarian, or parishioner ever had before.
The truth is that the inmates have taught me an entirely new perspective on so much of what I held to be central to living a holy life. Because inmates’ lives are subject to the structure of the prison schedule and counts, they end up living out the words of Jesus’ prayer, ‘Not my will, but yours be done." While persons in "outside"society frequent monasteries and retreat centers when they begin to feel weary, inmates have to be even more intentional about creating space and time for God's still small voice.
On my first Sunday at FCI Fort Dix, Chaplain Heidi Kugler had no sooner warned me that prison chaplaincy is a ministry of interruptions, when the first knock came on the office door. He was well over 6 feet tall with a muscular build one could easily find intimidating, and yet he entered with his head bowed and eyes on the floor. It took him a moment to utter his request, as though a shy schoolboy about to tell his mother he had failed math.
Upon speaking, his request surprised me. He asked the chaplain if she had a light bulb. ‘A light bulb,’ she inquired, ‘What do you need a light bulb for?’ ‘For the closet,’ came his boyish response, ‘I like to pray in there because it’s quiet.’ I came to realize that often prison strips away those elements of pride and facade to which many of us outside cling. In the midst of one's crime and suffering, lives can become broken and humbled enough for God to move in a manner that I had only imagined possible.
Another lesson I have learned from the inmates is the importance of community. One of the brothers recently learned that his 18-year-old son died suddenly from what appears to be heart failure, and throughout the entire day, shifts of brothers took turns to be with him in his grief, to cry with him over this young man they had never even met.
Even though these men are separated from their families, I have watched as so many of the inmates have become family for one another, a reality which we hope for in our communities on the outside, but which I have rarely seen to this extent.
Before I began my internship, one of my intentions was to eliminate any expectations I may have about any aspect of prison chaplaincy. I knew this was not entirely possible, but I wanted to be open to whatever may be in store. I admit that despite my efforts to start fresh, I was not expecting to find this element of care and family among the inmates. In fact they shattered not only my pre-conceived ideas about prison ministry, but also my understanding of God.
My time at FCI Fort Dix has taught me that the God we worship is so much bigger than all the practices we hold, than retreats and church walls, bigger than scheduled Sabbath and worship time, and bigger than our control. The inmates have taught me about what it means to accept where you are for the time being and to make the best of a situation that may not be ideal, or may not be where you thought you’d be at this point in life.
They’ve taught me about the healing that can follow brokenness, and about letting go of things that I thought were important, but really don’t matter in the end. They’ve taught me about the blessing that comes with simply walking part of the inmates’ journey with them.While I may have initially come to FCI Fort Dix to offer the inmates and the institution a service, it was I who ended up learning the lessons.