I Found My Father in Prison
A testimony of God's supernatural redemptive power.
A funny thing happened to me in prison: I met my Father. One day I was just minding my own business when the phone rang. My husband, Peter, made it clear in a few moments that a dear friend was on the line. He was excited and a lot of “God stuff” was going on.
The next thing I knew Peter was saying, “Talk to Melinda.” I took the phone and heard her tell me of doors that were opening to spread the Fire in U.S. prisons. Then she proceeded to ask us to go on a team with her and Bill to a “medium security” prison in Alabama. I thought, ‘Medium. I wonder what sends you to a medium-security prison. Shoplifting maybe? Or one too many jaywalking convictions?’
"She had unwittingly lit a fuse and ignited an explosion of latent anger, undischarged ammo from a battle I thought was over long ago."
But when I asked and she told me, I wasn't sure I wanted to go. Melinda proceeded to tell me that along with other inmates in this particular prison, many of them were sex offenders and some of the sex offenders were mental patients. It was as though a bomb had exploded in me. Before I could make up an excuse not to go, she said that their church would cover our hotel bills if we could fly ourselves to Alabama. They would try to get us a few meetings to cover it all if we could spare the time.
I didn’t want to pay to go there. Not to people like that! All I could think about was having to spend $2,000 US or more to minister to some people I thought should be “fried” for their crimes. What was in my heart wasn’t the Father’s love. Melinda didn’t know that she had unwittingly lit a fuse and ignited an explosion of latent anger, undischarged ammo from a battle I thought was over long ago.
When I was thirteen I was walking home from a rehearsal when a psychiatric patient who had escaped from a local hospital drove up alongside me. I didn’t know that he was an escapee from a psych ward or that he had been watching me for a few weeks. He had done his homework and knew enough information about my family to dupe me into getting into his vehicle. He told me that my mom had sent him to pick me up because my father had suffered a cardiac arrest. I was to go to the hospital with him as soon as possible.
"I felt devalued by the people I loved most."
Although I knew never to take rides from strangers, I adored my dad and was too stunned to say no. I was brought up with two parents who worked outside the home, my mother at a factory, and my dad always had two jobs, a third at Christmas some years. As a little one, I had already been sexually molested in their absence while they were at work. My parents were trying to provide us with a far better life than they ever had. So, in my Dad’s attempt to love us with a fine home, good school and life’s provision, we had to be left in the care of people who proved to be less than trustworthy. But the molestation that happened in my childhood did not compare with what happened that afternoon.
The mental patient violently sexually assaulted me. But far more painful than the assault were the repercussions that followed. I realize now that my parents didn’t know what to do after the police left and the end of the day came, but at midnight my mom came home and decided to do nothing. It was as though it didn’t happen. I read their shock, denial and silence as apathy. From that moment on, the pain wrote a message on my heart, “I’m not worth fighting for.” I burned with shame on the inside about the crime, but worse, I felt devalued by the people I loved most.
During the next three days I began a pattern of bulimia that lasted about 20 years. I would starve myself out of a growing sense of self-contempt. Then the hunger led to binging where I ate everything in sight, and then the guilt led to purging. The disorder finally stagnated as anorexia until 1982 when God radically touched me and broke the cycle.
"God put His finger on the deep root of bitterness I had buried long ago."
Although I managed to break patterns of bulimia and anorexia, my internal thought patterns remained the same. I still felt that I was not valuable or treasured enough to be worthy of receiving help. Lies floated through my mind. ‘You’re in it alone, just hope you make it!’ The lies continued until that day in 1997 when through my friend’s invitation to minister to sex offenders, God put His finger on the deep root of bitterness I had buried long ago.
Melinda never knew that for three days after she invited us, the air around me was blue. The hurting 13-year-old Heather seemed to emerge in rage from a grave. At the end of three days, I asked Peter.
“Would God make me go to prison?!I"
Peter said I didn’t have to go, and surely, God wouldn’t make me.
Nevertheless in July of 1997, Peter and I found ourselves on a plane to Montgomery, Alabama, but inside I was kicking all the way.
We arrived in the parking lot of Bullock County Correctional Facility the next day in the middle of a mid-summer’s day thunderstorm that pelted the van for 30 more minutes in rain so heavy that it was difficult to even see the outline of the guard tower. It was easily 90 degrees F. and the steamy air hung heavy after the rain stopped.
For some reason there was no acknowledgement from the guard tower, and we sat waiting for the better part of an hour. Later we found out why: an inmate had escaped the day before, and the warden and the guards weren’t very excited about receiving guests for chapel.
"The Holy Spirit took the microphone instead of me."
When the gate finally opened, I was first in line behind the guard whose stern expression let us all know he was escorting us against his better judgment, and he needed us to know it. Within minutes we turned into a long corridor and suddenly realized that he was parading our group of male and female volunteers past the glass windows of the men’s shower block. It was one more act of humiliation for the inmates and for anyone who wanted to help them.
I was beyond angry but managed to bark out just in time, “Eyes straight ahead; don’t look right or left.” “God,” I protested, “how can this be?! I came, OK?” The situation began to push every button in me that resented male dominance. I hadn’t wanted anyone on the team to know how much chutzpah I’d had to muster to get there. I’d even threatened to visit Peter with my full wrath if he told anyone.
I was red-faced with rage and embarrassment and nearly ready to explode when Melinda, full of ingenuous anticipation, said, “Heather, I think you should share with ‘the boys’ first.”
I was shaking, but believe me, it wasn’t the Holy Spirit. I said, “I insist on being first!”
When I opened my mouth, out it all came. I don’t know how, but the Holy Spirit took the microphone instead of me. I found myself telling the men about all my pain, shame, anger and prejudice against sex offenders. I recounted to them how I had been raped.
"He had ordered my footsteps nearly two thousand miles from my home in Canada into that prison to heal me of a deep wound I hadn’t even known was there.
Suddenly a tall, young inmate shuffled up the aisle from the back of the chapel and stood weeping in front of me. “I’m a Muslim, and I want to ask your forgiveness. I want to give my heart to Jesus,” He said. The atmosphere softened with the unseen presence of the Holy Spirit as inmate after inmate stood up and came clean with God and each other. Some had previously held back confessing the true nature of their crimes out of fear for their lives and to save what little was left of their sullied reputations. Several of them came personally to me, and there I met my heavenly Father.
Suddenly I knew that He had arranged the entire situation for me more than for them. He had ordered my footsteps nearly two thousand miles from my home in Canada into that prison to heal me of a deep wound I hadn’t even known was there. My heavenly Father thought that it was worth the trouble to send me there, thirty-five years after the assault, to heal my broken heart. I mattered to Him. He had even paid for the trip. In that moment, I forgave those inmates and my offender from my heart.
Forgiveness is a choice that opens the door to your own healing. I believe God wants more for each of us than a decision to forgive. That’s only the beginning. He wants our hearts to go out to those who’ve hurt us. He wants us to have a forgiving spirit.