From the Hills: Bringing Jimmy Home

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My Husband and I are about to embark on an adventure that will require everything we have experienced and many years studying the heart of God.

Because you are reading these words, I believe you probably have a faith-based life. For that reason, I’m asking, “Would you please pray for our home?

We are three weeks away from bringing Jimmy home.

We first met Jimmy 21 years ago at McNeil Island Correctional Center, the last island prison in the United States. After several years as religious volunteers, the superintendent asked us to teach a secular program. Long Distance Dads was developed to teach inmates how to father their children while behind bars.

We agreed for two reasons. First, it allowed us to impact generational crime while limiting the effects of having a father in prison. The children didn’t do the crime, but they still “did the time.” Second, it would allow us to interface with offenders who would never set foot in the chapel. They needed us to be Jesus with skin on.

Jimmy was in the inaugural class.

He was scary tough: Large muscular arms with tattoos before they were acceptable in American culture, shaved head, deep blue eyes that were cold and unfeeling. When Jimmy walked in the room, even other inmates shrunk back in their chairs.

He sat through the first several sessions with his big arms crossed on his chest and a scowl firmly planted on his face. We pretended not to notice. Finally, Jimmy stayed after class and asked to meet with us. Surely he was dropping out—I was almost relieved. Maybe if he wasn’t there, the other men would finally open up and talk about their children.

That isn’t what Jimmy said.

“I want to apologize. I’ve been rude. Didn’t think I needed to be here, but my counselor made me sign up. I have five children. Three different baby-mamas. I’ve been a rotten dad and I need what you are teaching. I was wrong. Just want to say I’m sorry," he admitted.

After that, no offender worked harder than Jimmy.

He tried every technique we were teaching. His relationships began to change. At the end of 12 weeks he was so outstanding that we were able to do leadership training and have him with us as an inmate facilitator.

We had three twelve-week classes a year and he was a huge asset. Together we developed additional programs for the Department of Corrections. Our goals never wavered: decreasing crime and creating healthier families.

After McNeil Island’s prison closed, Jimmy was transferred. We continued to write, talk on the phone, and provide ongoing encouragement. Ten years ago we offered to “re-socialize” him when he was eventually released. After years of failed litigation, his attorney submitted a request for clemency. Last week Governor Inslee signed it. Jimmy is finally coming home.

Yesterday, while talking with him on the phone I realized that we have a challenge. Jimmy is not the same eager student from our time teaching “Long-Distance Dads.” Twenty-five years is a long time to be incarcerated. Prison hardens hearts. It teaches codes of conduct and a bullying form of communication that are not acceptable. It makes men mean.

When we hung up the phone, I went to bed. “Lord, what have we agreed to do for you?”

He answered. “You agreed to love someone who erroneously thinks love is a weakness and kindness is dangerous. Together, you and I are going to heal Jimmy’s heart.”

Have you ever encountered a badly broken heart? Next week, I’ll tell you where God told us to begin. 

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Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and an author. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at sylviap7@comcast.net. She is the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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