Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Prison Comedy, Take 1

            God redeems every situation, no matter how uncomfortable.         

            This morning I did stand up in front of a bunch of naked guys in a prison.

            You probably need more of the story.  

            Earlier this week I was in Nashville for a Christian comedy conference. This morning, before 
returning home, a bunch of comedians, including myself, joined up with an organization to go do comedy and ministry for the inmates at a local prison.

            After arriving at the prison and going through the intense security (which was still not as bad as TSA), we sat through a briefing of things to do and not to do. We received a packet of papers and verses, and each got a pen to write down things related to the ministry materials. We weren’t under any circumstances allowed to let inmates keep these pens, because they can be used as weapons. 

            As my team began to go to our wing of the prison, the coordinator said to our leader, “you’re taking them to the guys in B.”

            A pit formed in my stomach. I realized I was going to be in front of the male inmates.

            I’d assumed up to that point that I’d be put in a group performing for female inmates. But you know what they say about people who assume:

            They end up having naked convicts in their audience.  

            We performed in the common area of a cellblock. Tables were set up around the large room, there were showers to the right and left with inmates showering, (they were blocked with hip-high barriers, but still…), and clear floor-to-ceiling glass partitions revealing the barracks, where men were sleeping, hanging out, and getting dressed.

            Uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe what I felt.  

            “Lord,” I prayed. “I don’t know when you plan on returning, but now is a really good time for me!”

            The team leader introduced me and I took the mic. I wasn’t even thinking about comedy. I was thinking about where I should look.

            I didn’t want to look at the showers, so I looked straight back. Nope. People changing. I focused instead on a few of the inmates sitting at the front tables who actually looked like they wanted to laugh at comedy. I appreciated these guys.
            I did a really short set and I don’t remember most of it. They laughed some. I think.  

            After the second comedian finished we spread out to talk with the inmates. Being the only girl in the group I was going to try and sit with one of the men teammates, but as I tried to non-awkwardly find a place, I saw an inmate waving me over to a seat.

            “Com’ere homeschool! I got questions for you!” he said.

            I prayed quickly for boldness. And I checked to make sure my pen was secure.

            Two other guys sat down at the table with us. One wouldn’t make eye contact with me and the other was an older man who looked kind. I felt oddly comfortable at the table. I looked around the rest of the room and a man with hair like the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs gave me a creepy smile and once-over.

            I decided to stay focused on my table.

            We introduced ourselves and I asked them a little bit about their families, how long they’d been in prison, and other details about their lives.

           After we finished our introductions, the inmate that had waved me over, who I’m going to call Jay, got to business.

            “I got questions, and I think you’ll know the answers,” Jay said.

            “Fire away,” I said. Probably a poor choice of words, but whatever.

            He proceeded to ask me a series of questions about apologetics. He wanted to know how he could tell his inmate friend that Christianity is true. He wanted to know if men are born wicked, or if society corrupts them.

            There was no degrading tone, no hint of wanting to give me a hard time for being a girl in his territory. This was a man who wanted answers.

            Those who know me know there are two subjects I will always want to talk about: comedy and apologetics. If you manage to combine the two into one conversation my head explodes.

            Jay and I began a deep discussion about grace, apologetics, Jesus as the ultimate truth, and how we know the gospel is true. As we spoke, the inmates to my right and left came alive. The man to the left still wouldn’t speak, but he smiled slightly. The man to my right engaged in the conversation. We went through and discussed the verses on the sheet the ministry gave me. The man to my right mentioned wanting to make things right with his family.

            At the end of the conversation, Jay looked up at me and said, “I been praying for answers, and I knew the minute you walked in, Homeschool, that you’d be the one to give them to me!”

            My heart about broke. There, in the midst of feeling helpless and scared, God used me. I had the answers Jay needed because I’d had his same questions as a sheltered homeschool girl ten years prior. I prayed with them. I prayed that God would redeem these years and give them a passion to see His kingdom spread.

            After getting their names and ID numbers (my silent friend even spoke up to give me his!) so the prison chaplain could follow up, I got up to rejoin our team.

             Right before we left another inmate came up to and asked how you walk the Christian walk when everyone around are hypocrites.

            “Like today,” he said. “My boys say they trying to do right by women. But then you come in here and they immediately start talking about how they gone mess you up. And they make me start thinking that way.”

            I was slightly startled by his bluntness, but he said it so honestly and sincerely that I didn’t feel like it was a threat or a put-down. We talked a little about James 1:23, where it differentiates between hearers and doers of the word.

            Then it was time to go. And I'm not going to lie. I was ready to get out.  

            I walked down the hall trying to process everything. I’m still processing. God used me in an incredibly uncomfortable situation. But He was there. I had answers and spoke with a courage I didn’t know I had.

            And despite overwhelming odds, I successfully managed to not see too much of the male anatomy.
            I never felt like I was going to be harmed or be held at pen-point. A few times I felt like a piece of raw meat in a lions den, but hey, that also happens when you ride public transportation or go up at certain comedy rooms.

            As I contemplated the day, I thought about all the crazy opportunities stand up has afforded me. When I started stand up I decided to never NOT do anything out of fear. I can’t help feeling it sometimes, but I try not to let it dictate my actions. Today was another testament to God working fear out of my life.

I’ve been up since 3:15am, it’s been a long day of travel and trying not to see things I don’t want to see.

            I will be praying for Jay. I think when I get to heaven I’m going to find out that he went on to do great things for the Kingdom of God.

             And if you’re from CCA reading this, thank you for a wonderful three days! I treasure and value the encouragement, friendships, advice, and critiques I’ve received from each of you.