I mentioned this in a staff meeting last week and I’ve continued to think on it a bit…
Before I was lovingly accepted here at Haywood Street, I was working, remotely, with the Florida prison system. I worked for a high profile criminal defense firm, and for three attorneys who are now known for their record number of exonerations.
I was responsible for finding mitigating factors to inmates’ crimes. The task was really: how fast can you build rapport? After I had an inmate’s ID number, I could look up which prison they were currently assigned to. Next was calling the prison and connecting the ID number with the corresponding Corrections Officer. If I was lucky enough to get this far, then I had to sweet talk the CO into setting up a day and time at which I could speak with the assigned inmate. Sometimes the CO would tell me that the inmate was in solitary confinement (when they were not), sometimes they would laugh and hang up. Sometimes they were incredibly helpful and would set up the call, no problem. Then, when I would call at the given day and time, no one would answer.
All this to say, when I finally got an inmate on the phone, I had to work quickly. I had to convince someone I had never met that I needed them to pull every skeleton they owned out from the closet. It was not therapy, in fact, it was probably somewhat re-traumatizing, but the fact was–the factors that had led to their incarceration were probably the same factors that had the ability to save their life. When mitigating factors are brought before a judge, they help complete the story; they help put a person’s crime within the context of their life and life circumstances. Often, they drastically reduce one’s sentence.
Anyways. What I have noticed lately is the ease at which friends of Haywood Street tell their ‘mitigating factors’ — be it to me, other staff, to Companions, or amongst one another. It is a safe space here. Revealing one’s skeletons is not a daunting task, because we know we are all children of God, regardless. The rapport is nailed into the walls, mixed into the garden’s soil, served up for free around the Welcome Table.
Working with those on the inside and working with friends of Haywood Street–I find a common understanding: sharing your story always holds the potential to set you free.
For more faces & stories from our Congregation, click here.