Setting prisoners free

Originally published Monday, 28 January 2013.


We take the ferry across San Francisco Bay, towards Alcatraz, water rippling in slow waves dark, blue-green. Our elbows lean on grey steel rail, and we watch city skyline take shape on our left. Buildings reach to sky in hilly rows, glass windows sparkling vertical diamond dotted lines. The double-decked Bay Bridge stretches east-west behind us, and in front of us are the arches of the Golden Gate and waves heading far out to ocean, where I can no longer see.

It is January, and the sun blankets us warm, yellow gold. I am in this day, beauty unfolded. I remember the morning two years ago, hidden amid trees behind my friend's house and feeling the Father's eyes on me. His words: "I love watching you here, part of my canvas, my tapestry stretched out and beautiful." He has had His paintbrush out again and I see its strokes. He paints me into the canvas and I am beautiful, too.

Not one thing He touches is not a miracle. I am in this day, the movement of the brush upon canvas, the cool wind pressing against my face and the bouncing of the boat on the waves.

With Him, I am movement here, too, even while I merely stand. I lean at the deck, my family flanked, advancing towards the prison that stands solitary, on island just a mile and half from shore. I am part of the movement of His day, His sun, His clouds and blue draping through heaven.

Do you smile, Father, when you see us seeing You, here? I can go to prison and your love for me cannot be contained. 

We reach the dock and troll up steep asphalt to cell-block walls, a once military outpost in 1850 and later federal penitentiary, for 30 years, until 1963.

We navigate through hallways of steel bars and spend moments inside "The Hole" in D-Block, where prisoners most notorious were punished. I try to imagine light not reaching me, Father. But I know Your Light lives and can penetrate any darkness, even the worst, in me.

You are all I ever need, Father, and I wonder if you walked up and down these hallways and what you thought when you saw your children, prisoners working for years, using spoons, to dig holes through plaster to escape. I read the biographies of the most famous criminals here and what they did to get here. Oh, don't we all--even in our most tormented, most hideous states, just, at our core, want to be free?

What did you think when men sought freedom and reached icy waters and swam--swam with lungs aching and limbs failing to be scooped up on rocky cliffs hours later, all in an attempt to be free?

I am in prison walls, Father. I am in prison, trying to claw my way out, away from misery I create when I live on my own, without You. I deserve the worst punishment, worse than these men whose lives wasted away here. I deserve death, and You give me life. The keys to my freedom offered with your death, Jesus, and now the choice to live is all mine. I have a choice: I can live like I am entrapped, ensnared by sin, or in the truth that my sins have been washed away and I am free.

I only jump off this Rock and swim far if I am trying to get away from You. For I stand on you now, Father. And the rock on which I stand is what makes me free.

Liberate the prisoners, Father.  I declare with this life You've given me that I am free--that I am a prisoner no longer. . .and that You have come to remind each one of us that, with You, we have wings.

Father, send me out and keep me Home. Let me sing with Your voice in me that we are each called to be free. We are called to soar over waters--to sing and fly and not sink.

Let us live lives beautiful and wild and free. For don't each of us just need to unfurl these hands and jump fully, head-first, towards Hope?

For what would I be willing to risk my life and swim through this miracle you've given me, Father? Does it take me realizing how desperate I am for You?

What recent moment, friends, has reminded you that you are free?