One of the self-help groups I work with in a state prison is called ‘Celebrate Recovery’. It’s a sort of 12-Steps-for-Jesus approach to kicking addictions. The framework resembles what the non-denominational Alcoholics Anonymous might look like had AA been founded by a couple of guys who were totally into Scripture. Rather than a Higher Power, Celebrate Recovery’s deity is unabashedly our brother Jesus. The program’s enthusiasm draws a lot of inmates into something positive.
I’ve been noticing that the Celebrate Recovery band is surprisingly good, although I should really stop being surprised by the gifts and talents that are evident everywhere in prison. People don’t stop being channeling their passion for what they are good at - art or music or mechanics or politics - when they are incarcerated. One inmate is an accomplished rap artist, who writes and performs his own compositions. A line from a song he sang recently has stuck in my head. “I don’t wanna leave here the way I came,” he sang. It was a refrain that he kept looping back to: “I don’t wanna leave here the way I came – oh, no – I don’t wanna leave here the way I came – oh, no . . .” The other band members and some of the men in the audience sang and clapped along to the beat.
The sentence seemed an excellent governing philosophy for a prison term. Why not avail oneself of all possible rehabilitation, training, programs, and classes while one has a lot of time? Why not leave a better man than the one who came in, especially if there’s not much else to do? Why not equip oneself to be a better son, father, boyfriend, husband, friend, worker? And then I thought the same thought that I have so often thought during my hours working in a prison: Why do I assume that inmates need these life lessons more than I do?
Because I, too, don’t wanna leave here the way I came. I want my small bit of life on earth to shine with light gained along the journey, with insight, compassion, and wisdom acquired the hard way, with love that has grown in scope and intensity. I want to leave this life a better woman than the one whose path I have trudged and whose history I have lived, a better person than the one born all those decades ago. If we believe in a God whose love sustains us, we will not leave here the way we came. We can’t help but bloom in the light of such grace.
And how fantastic that God dwells in the locked confines of a prison, in the rhythm of rap.