I’m kicking myself now thinking of our conversation, wondering why I didn’t ask more questions. It was a Christmas party at the prison for the men in the ministry degree program with the New Orleans seminary. (Read more about the program HERE and HERE and HERE.) I entered the prison alone carrying a large tray of desserts.
Dr. Dan, their professor, invited me. He was letting them watch a movie and had promised them fried chicken from KFC. I was to bring the dessert. Days before, I agonized over just what to make – store bought wasn’t good enough. These men don’t get home cooked food. Ever. And so I wanted to do something nice.
I ended up with a Praline Pecan cake, some homemade fudge and chocolate drizzled pretzels. In my arms I carried a large tray with goodies, a Tupperware full of pretzels and two copies of the Couch Rebels book I wanted to present to the men and Dr. Dan.
After getting through the main administrative building, I had a long walk through the campus to get to the gym that housed the seminary classes. As I approached the first fence, Dr. Dan walked up as he headed out to get chicken and called to an inmate nearby.
“Hey Blue! Would you help Mrs. Hatcher carry these things to the gym?”
“Yessir! I’d be glad to do it.” And Blue moved quickly to grab my precariously balanced tray and shot me a smile. His brown eyes were kind, and his head was bald and white.
I jumped in to conversation. It’s what I do when I’m there – try to create relationships with this men whose lives I often cannot fathom. I thought he was in the seminary program; his face was familiar. So I carried on like we already had been introduced and knew one another – only we hadn’t.
“Hey!” I flashed a big smile. “Are you ready for Christmas?”
“Yes Ma’am. You know when I was a little boy, I looked forward to Christmas every year. I would look under the tree for those shiny packages with big bows and couldn’t wait to open them. I grew up doing the same thing. Living my life for me.”
He paused to answer a guard who called to him asking for a piece of the fudge on the tray he carried. After telling the guard he’d have to go through me, we walked on and he continued sharing.
“Yeah, I did a lot of living for me. But you see how that ended up.” He motioned to the surrounding fences, prison dorms and barbed wire.
“Then I started getting to know my Creator. I started living for Him. And now, Mrs. Hatcher, everyday is Christmas in my heart. Everyday.” He grinned and nodded.
I stared at the man beside me and could hardly comprehend it all. This man who wakes up each morning at 5 am for “chow” and puts on one of his two state-issued uniforms still believes that everyday is like Christmas.
Oh, that we would all have a heart like that.
An armed guard moved aside for us to enter the gym. Blue walked the tray all the way to the classroom and placed it on the table. He turned to walk out, and I realized he wasn’t a prisoner student at all. He carried cake and fudge he would never get to taste and placed it on a table with homemade biscuits and potato salad he could only dream about . And. Walked. Out.
But he turned before leaving and called to me, “God bless you, Mrs. Hatcher. And Merry Christmas.”
Merry Christmas, Blue – today and every day.