I was invited to attend Apral’s testimony, Apral is the CRI Ministry Leader for the general population CR group in Coffee Creek Correctional Facility (CCCF). CCCF is Oregon’s only women’s prison & currently has 3 CRI groups: general population minimum security, A&D (women in alcohol & drug addiction treatment) minimum security and, general population medium/maximum security. Apral has been leading her group for almost 3 years and currently serves with 3 other women every Thursday night. This group has 24 women on the ‘call out list’ and has a waiting list because the room size won’t accommodate more, the women arrive in various demeanors but generally upbeat, they’re excited for this group with these leaders. Inside a state correctional facility there are very definite required boundaries between our volunteers and the participants in our groups, it’s obvious that all the women enjoy each other and banter between them is lively but respectful. Women love to give each other hugs when they greet each other but here that is prohibited, showing to much favoritism to any particular inmate can be misinterpreted, none the less there is much interaction and mutual love shown as more ladies arrive and get settled in.
The group starts, as it typically does, with each volunteer performing different functions of setting up and responding to the participants entering the room: signing in, checking in ‘homework’ from previous lessons, answering questions, greeting the newcomers and handing out their start up materials, checking in copies of ‘Life’s Healing Choices’ (LHC; this is the book written by John Baker, with it’s study guide and each of the 8 lessons taught by Rick Warren on DVD, that make up the weekly curriculum used in most of our CR Inside groups), and an assortment of other things, to what has become in Apral’s group the norm. Then Apral starts the meeting and greets everyone who are now seated around the outside of the room, she open’s in prayer and, all are asked to stand for worship in song of our Lord. A CD leads us through 3 songs, most everyone participates, and then Apral numbers off each person 1 or 2 and designates one participant to read an accompanying affirmation to each of the 8 Recovery Principles from LHC, 1’s read the Principle, 2’s read the Beatitude and lady selected the affirmation. As I look around the room I see a variety of emotions, anxious & calm, upbeat & downcast, expressive & reserved, engaged & detached, much like any CR meeting anywhere, but here there is always a sense of relief to escape, if only for a couple of hours, from a life cut off from the outside and a life that these women feel is slipping by them.
Then it’s time for the testimonial and everyone is anxious to hear Apral’s story, Apral has been working for some time preparing to share about how her life has been transformed, she has been writing, editing and selecting the best way to tell about her life, covering how it was, what happened as God started to intervene and what it’s like today. Celebrate Recovery (CR) testimonies need to fit into a time frame, because each week the program needs to cover all it’s many elements during it’s 2 hour window, testimonies need to be approximately 20 minutes. Since most of what happens at a CR must remain confidential I can’t relay Apral’s story here, hopefully sometime you’ll be privileged to hear it for yourself, nor is doing so my intent for this post, but to say how grateful that I am to be involved in this ministry and mission behind the chain link fence and razor wire, to be involved with men and women the caliber of Apral and, to be part of providing a ‘hope that has a set of instructions’ on accomplishing what for many of these participants was thought lost: a good life with integrity, freedom and meaning. Apral’s testimony brought myself and several others to tears, her life is not without trouble but she has come to know Jesus Christ and seen how He has been with her, lifted her up when she’s fallen, encouraged her when she was without hope, and healed even the most hurtful events in her life. God brought her into a room inside a state prison, like me she had no intentions of her own to serve this way but answered His call, and it’s been here that so many ‘loose ends’ have been tied up. It’s here each week where she receives more than she gives, where getting to know and see the transformation of the ‘courageous Christian women’ who have found a safe place with her, each other and Jesus each week away from the dark culture that’s common in a prison; it’s here that Apral has reached her stride, where it all makes sense in a marvelous and humbling way and where God is given all the glory.