“It’s the Easter bunny pirate!” I heard called from a table of prisoners behind me. I turned to see exactly that – the Easter bunny pirate, and I moved to greet him.
Let me explain. From time to time, I’m called to teach at Phillips State Prison to a seminary class of inmates who are working on their degrees in Christian ministry. In the first group of students, one had a gold tooth with a spade on it. I decided it looked more like a Christmas tree, and told the men it represented the birth of our Lord. They laughed at my interpretation.
Recently, a new class of inmates began the seminary program. As I went around introducing myself to them, one smiled and his gold tooth sparkled at me. “Oh, you have a gold tooth!” I gushed. “What’s on it?”
He grinned sheepishly. So, I leaned in closer and immediately recognized the Playboy bunny outline on his tooth. “This is from my former life,” he felt the need to explain. For a second I’d wondered what I’d gotten myself into and questioned whether the men would accept me. But I was determined to make that tooth, the one that exemplified this prisoner’s past life, into something new.
I explained to my new friend, whose name I discovered was Shante, about the golden spade tooth and how I decided it was a Christmas tree. Then it hit me. “It’s the Easter bunny!” I called out and the men around me burst into laughter.
“You have the Easter bunny on your tooth since Easter is your favorite holiday. It represents the birth of your risen Lord,” I explained to Shante. “Isn’t that right?” I tried to keep a straight face as if having an Easter bunny on your tooth in prison was the norm.
He smiled and laughed, nodding with approval. His one eye twinkled; the other covered with a black patch. Intrigued by this man who looked like a character from a novel, I wanted to ask about his eye patch, but decided I was pushing my luck with the bunny.
A week later, as I taught the inmates how writing can be a ministry, I jokingly referred to Shante as the Easter bunny pirate, and the name stuck. One glance at Shante and you’ll see the gold tooth and the eye patch, but spend even a few minutes talking to him and you’ll see what’s underneath. He is a man who desires to serve the Lord.
Once a drug dealer, Shante actually had his eye shot out in a deal gone bad. He was shot eight times and left for dead. But God had other plans. He planned for Shante to go to prison, because it was in prison this inmate found Christ. But that wasn’t all God had planned.
This former drug peddler never finished high school and dreamed of getting his GED. Through God’s perfect timing in May of 2011, Shante earned his GED and in August started seminary.
Just four months later, at the prison Christmas party, I learned all of this about Shante’s life over a table full of pizza. There was more to this man than a bunny and an eye patch. He shared how his wife was released from prison the month before after serving five years. They were sentenced together and he plea-bargained, taking fifteen years to lessen her time to five. She was preparing to spend her first Christmas in five years with their kids. “I even have a ministry.” Shante proudly told me how he irons other inmates’ shirts and pants for one soup. Many of the inmates trade goods and services in prison. But this convicted felon’s service is a little different. As he irons, he prays for the person, and then slips a small piece of paper with scripture in the pocket of his fellow prisoner.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV
Think God can’t use you because of your past? Think again. God can make all things new. If you don’t believe me, ask my friend the Easter bunny pirate.