Monday, March 6, 2017

Walla Walla Weekend

"'Tis the most tender part of love, each other to forgive." -John Sheffield

This photo is a pathetic imitation of the real thing. But at least you get the idea. 

Here is what I learned this weekend on my first visit to the state penitentiary at Walla Walla:

As I anticipated, there is much ugliness at a prison.

Barbed wire and fences and gunned watch towers.
Pat searches and strip searches and endless preoccupation over what one might be attempting to smuggle in.
Corrections officers with grim faces and handcuffs dangling from their belts.
Countless rules and regulations about dress code, bathroom visits, and how one may and may not touch the person you love. 
Heavy metal doors that clank open and shut, as you walk down the corridor, trapping you over and over again. 

But at the same time, I was caught off-guard by endless beauty.

Surprising numbers of peaceful, patient, devoted visitors.
Incarcerated men who came in profound humility and unmistakable thankfulness for their guests. 
Children squealing with delight as their dads came into the room.
Loved ones patrolling vending machines full of cheap, unappetizing food, trying to pull together a special meal to feed their hungry men. 
Reunited families sitting together around tables, laughing and smiling in the simple delight of being together. 

The overall experience was profoundly moving and unexpectedly touching. 

* * * * *

Late in the afternoon, as I finished my visit and stepped outside, the setting sun stopped me in my tracks. Spread out along the long, low horizon of  rolling hills, dark billowing storm clouds growled above a golden sliver of sunset. But sadly, no matter where I stood to soak up this spectacular scene, my vantage point was marred by the mash-up of lamp posts, security fences, and staff members' cars cluttering up the foreground. At first, I felt like the whole experience was ruined. 

But as I watched and waited, something else happened. The dreary features of the foreground seemed to fade away as the majesty of the sunset overcame their ugliness. 

And I knew without a doubt that I was watching God's grace, mercy, and protection over this place shine down from the skies. And I was overwhelmed by His indescribable tenderness. 


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