Jail House Conversion

The author, psychologist and theologian, John Bradshaw says that the first three steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) restore order between me and God.  The second set of steps restore order within me, the third set of  steps restore order between me and my family and the final three steps restore order between me and the world.  This perspective made the twelve step program understandable to me.

While it would be great if I could have profoundly understood and worked each step chronologically, I am finding that I need to give due diligence to each step each day.  Early in my twelve-step program for family and friends of alcoholics and addicts, a wonderful lady that I will call Louisa (for the sake of anonymity) quietly talked me into volunteering at the county jail.


I say quietly because I was filling out forms for a background check and had a regular day scheduled at the jail after only saying, “I’ll think about it.”  You’ve got to watch those sweet little ladies.  Anyway, my first experience at the jail involved taking a twelve step meeting for family members of addicts and alcoholics.  I felt like they needed an actual AA meeting but Louisa said that it was hard to find a volunteer to bring that meeting to the jail and that we work the same twelve steps.

Prison ministry was an eye opener for me.  There is this section of people in my very own town that I have just walked past.  I did not see them.  I assumed that they chose this life.  I’ve learned that I have so much to learn.  My service at the jail has in fact, begun the process of restoring order between me and the world.

I went on to teach an expressive writing class.  Expressive writing is a class that uses writing as a way to heal from trauma.  Participants are invited to write about a trauma over and over again from different points of view.  Hopefully, healing can occur once they see things from another perspective.

Then I was asked to help establish a re-entry program.  We called that program ‘Mercy Works’.  We helped inmates acquire birth certificates, Social Security cards and any other documents that they might need for re-entry.  We worked on resumes, talked about felon friendly jobs and how to interview truthfully with a felony on their record.  We helped them find recovery housing or recovery programs that offered grants.  But, probably the most important element was mentorship.

Usually, inmates did not enter our program unless they had six months or less left on their sentence.  Somehow we got one young lady in our class who I will call Janie.  She had a sentence of eight years and had spent about three and a half years in jail already but she was coming up for parole in a few months. So,  I was paired with Janie.

Janie and I began our mentor/mentee relationship in 2013.  Last Thursday, I attended her second parole hearing.  Last year, she was denied.  This year she was recommended for parole.  But, the board always votes on the recommendation.  They voted down her recommendation.

In the two and a half years that Janie and I have been paired together, we have worked through some pretty important things.  She has reconciled with both of her parents.  She has taken every class that has been available to her.  She has prayed for my family and remembered me on my birthday and Mother’s day.  She asks about my writing every time that we talk.  It is a two-way relationship.

You see, I went into this program thinking that I was helping her.  What a scam.  Why would I ever be qualified to be the one to save or fix anyone else.  We are friends, although she has always called me ‘Mrs. Jean’; a sign of tremendous respect.  The only thing that she ever asked for was birthday cards for her boys and if I would put them on the angel tree at my church during Christmas.

Janie has been moved two and a half hours away to a prison for those who are not dangerous.  So, now we write.  I have taken a break from volunteering because of work and I want to give full attention to my mentees.  Today I ask that you say a prayer for Janie’s heavy heart.

I hope to keep you updated on her story.  It is my way of giving you a window into the world that exists right outside of your door.  And, that my friends is where I often find God.

John Kavanaugh asked Mother Teresa to pray for him to have clarity.  She said, “I’ve never had clarity and certitude.  I only have trust.  I’ll pray that you trust.”




About The Author

Jean Heaton

I am a daughter, sister, aunt, mother and probably most notoriously, ‘the Vet’s wife’.

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