Not The Whole Story

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by Palle Persson

I’m pretty sure that you have all either read or heard something bad about L. A. County Jail lately. Corruption at the top, deputies involved in criminal acts, inmates and visitors being beaten, and even a sheriff’s department Christmas party that turned into a drunken brawl, have all made the news. If we hear these kinds of stories about the “good guys” then the inmates must be really, really bad.  I remember when I first started coming to the jail, in the orientation they warned me, “You’re used to being in God’s house, now you’re stepping into Satan’s house.” In the 6 years that I’ve been ministering in L. A. county Jail I’ve seen a very different picture.

Galatians 5:9 tells us that a little yeast contaminates the whole lump and I believe that is what has happened here. The jail’s reputation has been contaminated by just a few incidents. Yes, these stories are terrible, but this is not the behavior of the vast majority of those I’ve worked with in jail, either deputy or inmate, but these stories sell newspapers and get TV ratings. It seems that people love to hear this stuff, the worse the better. What I experience on a daily basis is very different.

I see very little of Satan in Satan’s house while God is obviously present. Close to 50% of the inmates I talk to thank God that they are in jail. They have an opportunity to deal with a substance abuse problem, to receive medical attention if they’re sick, to break away from a gang and even have gang tattoos removed. There are school programs like M.E.R.I.T. (Maximizing Education Reaching Individual Transformation) and E.B.I. (Education Based Incarceration) where inmates can earn a GED or high school diploma. Mixed right into these programs are Christian Bible studies.

The most popular school program is School of Ministry which is a 3 month short term Christian seminary program. There are more than 200 inmates on the waiting list to get into this program.

The staff (medical, deputy, or officer) seems to have a real concern and compassion for the inmates. Often they’re the ones who reach out to a chaplain on an inmate’s behalf. I’m getting old and my arthritis is whooping me and the jail is big. Last week as I was shuffling to my classes, wishing I was at home, where was my compassion? As I entered 2 of my classes last week about 40 guys stood up, applauded and thanked me just for giving them my time.

Pastor Cory was right last Sunday when he said, “We thank God for the opportunity to serve.”

           God Bless our church family,

                                      Palle