When we entered Pavon our partners had brought a speaker system to set up in the lunch room so that all the prisoners could hear the gospel. It was so cool to see inmates that thrived on a positive mission. As I began to invite people to the "service" in the lunch room I came across an M18 gang member with tats all over his face that voiced his unashamed devotion. When I invited him he laughed and said that if he stood in there a rival gang would most likely take him out. He went on to tell us that he had just escaped out of solitary and that if we wanted to meet "his people" on their turf that we were welcome too. I immediately sensed a YES in my spirit.
Carl and I gave his 17 year old son Cameron the microphone and commissioned him to do the service in the lunch room. Stuart was horribly sick and stayed in the lunch room as a source of encouragement. But Carl, joined me in trying to get into solitary that was once used as a place for Lethal Injection.
We went to the guards by the gate with our new tattooed friend and asked if we could get into confinement. They looked at us like we were crazy and advised us not to do it, but granted us permission anyway. I tried to encourage our female translator to opt out, but she had no desire to back out of this mission. When I looked up at Carl the only words I could muster were, "Carl, I don't know what to expect but this could be it."
A guard took us to the place of confinement, 25 foot walls closed it in, a lethal injection building lay at the center of the walls, and there was no quick way out of this place. They opened the door, let us pass through, and locked us in this "cage" for an hour with the prison's most "hostile". This was a place that the guards didn't even tread on. It was the 13th floor, of the 13th floor and somehow God blessed us with the priviliage of being there.
We got stared down by the inmates. Never in their years had they seen visitors from America in solitary. No one was locked up and they all walked about freely with in this fortified perimeter.
We quickly smiled, pretended like we knew what we were doing , and greeted the men in love.
Our conversations quickly turned to the Bible, Jesus, Love, and Commitment.
Carl compared their sold out commitment to gang life to being sold out to God.
I took a couple of the men to the lethal injection table and shared with them that we all deserved the death penalty because of our sin, but Jesus' love was so deep that he took our place so that we could be free.
Love and urgency flowed out our hearts to theirs. Some called them hostile. Others called them murders. But all we saw was a group of men who were deeply hurting from a pain filled life. I am not sure what came of our time together. But I hope that they never forget that we loved Jesus and that we loved them enough to step onto their "forbidden" turf. It is my prayer that that depth of love will leave an impression and transform lives.
* no cameras were aloud in the prison however the pictures are of an M18 gang member and what appears to be the actual lethal injection room we were in.