“I Saw Beyond the Prison Bars,” Ensign, July 2001, 61
As my daughter and I traveled with our group through the gates of the prison, my uneasiness stayed in check because we would be participating in sacrament meeting at the youth facility and not with the regular inmates. I thought about the passage in Matthew where the Savior said, “I was in prison, and ye came unto me” (Matt. 25:36), and I felt it would be a good experience to worship with these young brothers and sisters.
When we arrived, however, we learned that plans had changed and that we would instead be meeting with the male inmates in the main prison facility. This upsetting news caught me totally unprepared, and I was frightened as we were escorted through metal detectors, security doors, and gray hallways into the prison chapel.
The chapel was similar to many others I had seen except for the windows. Although letting in sunlight, they were heavily barred. Also, on one side of the chapel was a Family History Library for use by the inmates. Since the prisoners were still eating their evening meals, I had a chance to talk with our escort. I shared with him my fear about the change in plans. He tried to reassure me, but I was still afraid.
When the guards finally escorted the inmates into the chapel, I actually felt sick to my stomach. I wondered what unspeakable things these men had done to be here in this awful place. I couldn’t wait to go home.
I had come to play the piano while my daughter sang. When our turn on the program came, I nervously took my place at the piano. I have heard my daughter sing many times, but this time was special. There she stood, filling the prison walls with her beautiful voice and sharing her testimony through music. Even the inmates in the Family History Library stopped their work to stand in the doorways and listen. I could tell their hearts had been touched.
Returning to my seat, I looked into the faces of those in the congregation with a different attitude. As they listened to the words spoken from the pulpit, many had tears in their eyes. I was no longer afraid, but sorrowful. Somehow, it didn’t matter now what they had done; I knew only that I cared for them. My heart ached for the circumstances they had brought upon themselves, and I was close to tears.
At the end of the meeting we were invited to sit with the congregation for a gospel lesson. As I sat among these men, I felt no fear but a feeling of oneness. Was I really so different from them? Certainly, I had not made unwise choices that would cause me to be imprisoned, but I was still in need of repentance. Were we not all children of our Father in Heaven?
After the closing prayer, the men gathered around us, shook our hands, and thanked us for coming. Some stayed to visit, telling us about their lives and their families. I enjoyed being with them. I even found myself praying for an opportunity to return. Three hours before, I had not wanted to stay, and now I did not want to leave. I loved these brothers in prison, and I knew God loved them too.