I spent 182 days in Williamson County Jail. In a life of now 48 years, that doesn't sound like much time. Almost three years later, as I work to document those days, the staff, court personnel and the women I shared "our house" with I am slowly seeing it all in a very different way.
Early on in my "stay" I began making notes of experiences, events, processes and people; the writer living inside me since I was a small child wanted to insure this very BIG experience wasn't lost to just another blurred memory. I wanted to keep alive everything I was going through and in the beginning it was for purposes that were less than noble, I wanted to figure out how to make money off my bad circumstances. That's the brutal truth. I wanted to write some "tell all" book to expose the injustices within the justice system and the often inhumane treatment that exists in our jails and prisons. Brutal, honest truth. Over time my notes became a scrapbook of words, a way to vividly remember the unique, diverse and interesting women that were housed in WILCO during that time. Monica, Kristan, Nichole, Lori, Patrica, Robyn, Cindi, Hope, Lee, Shannon, Olanda; the list of women and their stories are now a part of our joined history, now a part of my life forever.
Don't get me wrong. There was plenty to write about, the injustice was often quite real. The inhumane treatment not a figment of angry imaginations. I could write a book about that! But God put something on my heart that took this work and those notes in a new direction. He wants His daughter's stories, their testimonies to be clearly a reflection of His love. That's my task, starting with my own story and working right on through each and every story I was to hear, it was and is to be an accurate representation of God's Love and His Grace and His Mercy.
There was a purpose for my experience and in that experience God knew He had placed me where I could find a voice for my life. He also knew that I would never quiet until the stories were told and people could read them. I continue to work toward the goal of publication and I keep gathering stories and notes and interviews and conversations that tell how God has worked in the miraculous lives of the many women I came to know behind bars.
Not a one of those women will tell the same story. Their lives are unique blended experiences that are vividly alive. They may have drugs in common, or prostitution, or theft...they may share an abusive background or relationship. But they are individual women whose lives were continual choices, this direction or that. Some knew God from childhood, others discovered God in jail as I did, still others were being reintroduced to their loving Heavenly Father. Few that I met were unwilling to talk about God. I was probably one of the most stubborn in that regard! And as we talked, the conversations always took on a glow. There was something truly on fire in the dark hours when we would gather and speak quietly about Jesus and faith and what it means to be a Christian. No matter what might be going on in the tank or pod, when women gathered in the quiet to talk, something made the bars fall away and the guards disappear. We were alone with one another and with God.
You often hear that God sets man free and it is no more true than behind bars. When you feel His presence in your heart and with you right where you are, not even the cold steel and concrete of jail can make your heart feel trapped or caged. You are free in spirit and free in faith and free in love. God takes you from the empty night and brings you to His light. Those are the stories that we shared. Stories of how yesterday and today don't matter as much as the love our God has for us.
I will never forget those moments in jail when I sat contently on my bunk as though on my bed at home. Reading and writing and taking notes as though I was studying for a college exam and not writing on a steel bunk in county jail. I will never forget how God transported my mind away from the failure and shame of my actions to focus on our relationship alone.
And while I might have spent time planning my tell all book, God had other things in mind. Who am I to disregard my editor? He is the author and finisher!