Robert Hitt Neill Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Waiting brings joyous rewards in prison

Some things are worth waiting for, and you belong to wait on others.  For instance, the first weekend of deer season: I’m talking gun deer season here, not bo’narrer season, the which I don’t observe because of a separated shoulder from away back in Ole Miss football.

It didn’t heal right, and while I have plenty of strength to pull back the string, the tension somehow causes the joint to lock up on occasion, with the arrow halfway back. Crossbows are becoming more popular nowadays, and another old college football compatriot assures me that he can hit the middle part of a hubcap every time at 60 yards. I reckon I’ll have to get one.

The weekend before Thanksgiving was the first weekend of deer season.  It was also the weekend of the celebration of my grandson’s first birthday.  Since all the conglomerated family was getting together at Sir’s house for that occasion, they decided to go ahead and observe Thanksgiving that weekend, especially since Sir’s parents both had to work on Thanksgiving Day.  A full weekend!

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I missed all that stuff. You believe that?  Not only did I flat-out miss it all, but I was in prison for four days while everything was going on!  

This was not due to wrong-doing on my part, you will understand: at least, not wrongdoing that I had been caught for. Nor was this just any old prison one might choose to spend a few days in while friends and family are gathered in your own home town to celebrate birthdays, Thanksgiving, and deer season.  

This was a facility which, as one local TV station phrased it in a series they were running on it, “The worst prison in America”:  Unit 32 at Parchman, which also houses Death Row, the Unit where several fatal stabbings and several more non-fatal assaults were recorded during the past year.

Regular readers will quickly catch onto the fact that I was incarcerated with a team of men who work in the Kairos International Prison Ministry, a 30+ year-old organization that is world-wide in scope, and with which Betsy and I have been involved for going on 15 years.  I’m state chairman this year, so if you’d like to go to prison, but get out when you want to, call your Uncle Bob at 662-686-7789.

This was the first Kairos (a Greek word meaning God’s Special Time) weekend at Unit 32, so there were some initial problems that will always occur in a different Unit, but all that got ironed out, with a great deal of humor, matter of fact.  There was some initial resistance to the routine from the 24 incarcerated residents, as well.

There were some mishaps, such as when Our Fearless Leader leaned upon the refreshments table as I stepped by him to start a song session, and the table leg gave way, dumping about six gallons of hot coffee, and five gallons each of tea and lemonade. Since we were at the time in a rather tense atmosphere, both residents and free-world volunteers were up and running at the considerable noise, although in a prison, there ain’t much place to run to!

Then in the middle of a song session that Friday afternoon, suddenly it was like the sun (Son?) came out from behind the clouds and glowed upon the faces of the singers in front of me.  One guy did the splits during “Pharoah, Pharoah,” and the whole weekend suddenly turned around.  

This was my 29th Kairos weekend, and I have never laughed as much!  One resident told me the last day, “Uncle Bob, there ain’t much laughter in Unit 32, but I have laughed more this weekend than I ever have in my entire life!”

But it wasn’t silly funny; just joyous funny, an atmosphere bubbling over with what someone said was “Holy Laughter.”  Strange to you, maybe, but your Uncle Bob has seen the kind of joy that true freedom brings.  

Did I say yet that in Kairos, we don’t go into prison to get someone out of prison?  We go into prison to set people free – in Jesus Christ!  Maybe it’s hard for some folks to realize that God loves all of His Children: even the ones who took a wrong road in their lives.

Now we will be going back into Unit 32 every couple of weeks until Kairos # 2 in Unit 32 next spring, because once we start Kairos in a prison, we go back on a regular basis.  Sometimes we even have to miss those Special Weekends!