Tuesday Nights

Posted on January 19, 2014


Every Tuesday evening a group of Christian men and women enter the Tuscaloosa County Jail to minister to the inmates. The ladies go to the women’s cell blocks and the men to the men’s.

They aren’t really “blocks,” but large dorm-like spaces. Some, on the “metro” side are equipped with pretty much open sleeping arrangements–bunk beds arrayed along the walls, and some semi-private bathroom arrangements. On the other side of the jail, the county side, each large dorm room has ten separate rooms, with a door for security.

All rooms are under constant surveillance by video cameras, and privacy is almost non-existent.

Everyone is dressed the same jail garb, loose fitting white shirts and pants, flip flops, although the “trustees,” those chosen for good behavior and dependability, wear orange.

Virtually everyone arrested in Tuscaloosa County ends up in here, for as little as a few hours to years sometimes. Maybe someone mouthed off to a police officer or ran a few too many red lights. They can be out in hours, or days. Some accused of murder, drug dealing, or robberies may be in for months and sometimes years awaiting trial.

Some can pay a bail bond and avoid the Tuscaloosa County Jail, and then others can’t afford a bond or perhaps a very successful attorney.

On the other hand, the men and women who go into the jail to share the word of God are a mixture of pastors and laymen, some with congregations, some deacons and elders in their churches, from a wide spectrum of Christianity–Catholics, Baptists, Non-Denominational, Methodists, an eclectic assortment united by their devotion to share Jesus Christ with the prisoners. I’ve met them all.

I started going in around 2000 when Carlton McDaniel, one of the faithful “old timers” in the ministry asked me if I could come in with him to minister to a Mexican who had received Jesus, but spoke little or no English.

I speak Spanish fluently thanks to my mother being Chilean and growing up in South America. I agreed and have been going on Tuesday nights ever since.

“Treat a man as he is,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.” Or, as Jeremiah (29:11) observed, “For I know the plansI have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosperyou and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I almost always tell them at some point in my message, “I don’t care where you came from or how you got here. I’m interested in where you’re going.”

I am not a preacher, but a teacher. But I can get wound up, anointed by the Holy Spirit my wife says, and one night I finished a hot sermon. I stopped, everyone was silent.

I asked, “Does anybody have any questions, any concerns?” thinking, perhaps, a question on salvation or forgiveness would pop up. After a few seconds of silence, one raised his hand.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Where did you get those shoes?”

My shoes? My shoes? He’s asking me about my shoes, not about this brilliant exegesis of salvation?

I was speechless, and said something inane, looking down at my shoes, “uh, my wife bought them,” and left the cell block, brought down to earth where I belonged.

New shoes or old shoes, we are all fulfilling a piece of Scripture we know well, Matthew 25: 35-46. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me,I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

If you are interested in knowing more about the Tuscaloosa County Jail Ministry, just send me an email and I’ll put you in touch with the right people. You don’t need any formal credentials to join us other than a routine background check by the Sheriff’s office which can be arranged. Other than bringing hope to those who need it, you may also discover much about yourself, and your own faith. That’s the bonus.

 This column published in my blog The Port Rail as Joining the Tuesday Night Congregation in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014.