August 14, 2011

The Prison Came To Me

This week I am going to prison. I never expected to end up there. It wasn’t on my bucket list. It has never been a dream or desire in my heart. I never aspired to have bars close and lock behind me. Yet, in less than seven days the sound will be unmistakable.

Remarkably I have no fear.

My journey to prison started three years ago. It began when the prison came to me.

If you don’t know that part of the story, here’s a quick look back. Grapevine Faith Christian School’s football team was scheduled to play Gainesville State Correctional Facility, a maximum security youth prison in Texas. My two oldest boys were football players on the Grapevine Faith team. Their coach sent out an email asking parents to form a spirit line on the Gainesville side and then stay on that side and cheer, by name, for the boys from the prison. Faith families are a bit sold out when ideas like this come around, couple that with Texas football and you’ve got the makings of something revolutionary. Revolutionary it was.

That football game birthed the annual One Heart Bowl; a book, Remember Why You Play by David Thomas; a movie,; a project, The One Heart Project; and for me, The One Heart Art Camp.

The first One Heart Art Camp is in less than five days. In less than a week, I will be in prison surrounded by teenage boys who no longer know freedom. Did they ever?

People have said that I am a remarkable person and that I am doing a good thing by going into the prison to offer this camp. I don’t know how to respond to those comments. You see, the spark that ignited me is “discovery”. As an artist, discovery is the bow which propels the arrow to hit its mark. Without the passion to discover, nothing would be created. Canvases would remain empty. Sculptures would be void of form. I am not approaching the prison camp due to a moral obligation to society or even from the place of thinking I have something to offer. I go because I get to discover.

My goal is clear. Search for the next One Heart Artist. Once found, display his artwork in my upcoming October exhibit in Fort Worth called “Bound to Breakthrough”. The End!

AAAHHHH, but the thing about discovery is it usually leads to more discoveries. The things that aren’t so clear propel me to the prison as well. Things such as, will the boys in the camp open themselves up as they progress from doodling with pencil to exploring with paint? Will they soften for a time so the Spirit of the living God can fall fresh upon them as I share how That Spirit has transformed me? Will they give their lives to a new Lord of their life named Jesus?

There are other things that await an unveiling. Such as, if I do find The One Heart Artist and I put his artwork in the exhibit and it sells, can I set up a fund for him as seed money for when he gets out of prison? Will I find more than ONE artist? Will one art camp and one exhibit really inspire him/them once he/they are out of prison to start a new canvas of life? Will others be inspired to start their own One Heart Art Camp for their local prison? Will I go back and do another camp?

There’s a tension in working with these boys- at least for me there is. During the One Heart Bowl last year at Grapevine Faith Christian School, I was priviledged to serve the boys a meal. There weren’t bars surrounding them although the guards were very present. The boys parents weren’t anywhere around nor would they be although there were parents surrounding them in the kitchen and would be cheering them on later on the field. I talked with the boys. I put my hand on their shoulders. I refreshed their drinks. I answered questions they asked about my son who they would be playing against shortly. I told them I would be cheering for them tonight. I realized they were just like any other boy in need of a loving mom and dad, but something happened the minute I let down MY guard. The iron bars of my heart went in lock down mode. It was so loud it jolted me to attention and I withdrew my presence from among them. I was reminded of THEIR prison. My internal turf war raged: Love vs remembering what they had done. I really didn’t know what they had done but I knew it was bad if they were in a maximum security prison. I lost the battle that night. I withdrew my love based on their past actions. I don’t want to lose again. I want love to win and so I go to prison to discover this about myself as well.

I know I would not have had the courage to go to prison if the prison hadn’t first come to me. I know I wouldn’t explore the inside of barbed wire fences if the fence wasn’t first removed by inmates playing football on my turf. The teenagers might live behind bars, but I have my own bars I bring with me. I want out of prison. That’s one of the reasons why I choose to go to prison. Pray for me as I discover how to love unconditionally.