Friday, September 28, 2007



Last night I visited the Seven Step program at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem Oregon to be part of an essay presentation I helped organize through the church we attend (Rolling Hills Community). I had never been to a prison before so this was a way out of my comfort zone experience for me.
When we first got there, we went through all of the security measures – one gal in our group could not find her driver’s license and was not allowed in. When we finally got through all of the gates and check ins and beeping, we were ushered into a room where the inmates were waiting for us with cookies, apple tarts and coffee. We were supposed to find a place to sit among the denim-dressed men and so I asked one of our group, Marupong, to sit by me. It was all men prisoners and I felt a bit looked over.
Marupong and I sat by a group of smiling prisoners who immediately asked if we were believers and what church we came from --they were also Christians; I asked them to tell me their stories. They seemed so, well, normal. Several had grown up in the church but had gone astray with drugs, landing them in jail. Many of these men have children they don’t see and their lives have been forgotten. Some hope to get out, others I am not sure. One man’s deep blue eyes pierce your soul.
The essay presentations began and we all shared our stories on parenting and life and what we do differently from our parents and how our childhood affected us today. I shared my “We are a living textbook on parenting” essay and my “PocketFul of Sunshine poem-essay.” Several inmates came up to talk to me afterwards about the essays and advice for their lives. One gentleman said, “How can I keep in touch with my two kids, age 4 and 6?” Oh, my heart bled for him. I have a 4-year-old that I see everyday. I cannot imagine the pain of not seeing a child.
The evening seemed orchestrated by God in so many ways, though I admit at first I was not sure I even wanted to go, but I was asked by Gary Strudler from church and I wanted to help him out. Go out of my comfort zone. When I met Rick German from Bridges to Change I knew it was meant to be that I was there. Rick visits the State Pen inmates at the Seven Step program monthly as his life was transformed by Christ and now he gives back helping drug addicts and homeless folks get their lives back together. Amazing thing – Rick’s transitional housing center that he assists with is in West Linn, the very city I live in!
I also met Tim the security guard who is a believer as well - He told me every day when he walks through those gates into the State Pen he prays to God: ”Dear Lord, use me today to bring light to a dark place.”
He is so aware of darkness while we are sometimes asleep in the light.

Cornelia Seigneur aka Nellie aka WriterMom


Linda Austin said...

I was a penpal for a prisoner, through a program our church was sponsoring. My prisoner was a very young man who longed to be able to be a father to his young son. He was very sensitive, writing beautiful poetry and was also quite the artist. Made me rethink my vision of prisoners.

Cornelia Becker Seigneur said...

Hi Linda - I also met so many fathers at this program and they too were so desiring contact with their children. Broke my heart. One man had not seen his 4 year old child and I think, here, I have a 4-year-old. Another inmate had not seen his daughter since she was 3 and the daughter is now 23. . .this prisoner gets out in 18 months and he is a changed man. He knows Christ as his Savior and he will look for his daughter. Can there be forgiveness?



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