It happened on a chilly day in February, 1989. A white cube van packed with sound equipment, musical instruments and twelve men approach the main gate to what the locals call Disneyland of Kingston (Ontario, Canada). The huge building looms over the empty fields, castle-like, stone structure, several stories high. Spires and steeples are painted bright red to match the roof. Massive concrete walls with watchtowers at varying intervals are attached to the structure. Guards with automatic rifles peer from each tower. Rolls of razor sharp barbed wire resembling spiral tubes stretch across the top of the walls. The windows are barred with steel.
The sign reads, “COLLINS BAY CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION.”
We must look suspicious because a pick-up truck approaches us and armed guards are at the ready. The Salvation Army major who arranged our visit greets us at the gate and tension subsides. Once inside, guards check all equipment and boxes for contraband. Steel-barred electronic doors open and clang shut as we move through sections of corridors. Into the recesses of the prison we go until we reach the gymnasium.
Over one hundred inmates are there, some lifting weights, others shooting basketballs, some huddled in small groups. We are watched closely as we set up our equipment amid the loud din. The music and singing begin. The noise gradually subsides. Some pretend they aren’t listening but we could tell they clung to every word.
A few of our men spoke between songs. Our message is simple. “We have come to give you hope. You can be free even though you are behind concrete and steel walls if you will make Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior. Ask Jesus to forgive you and He will. Jesus is alive and He is able to help anyone. But the asking is up to you.”
The men are invited to turn their lives over to Jesus. Thirty to forty men come forward. Inmates with faces streaked in tears move toward us. One young man says, “Jesus has set me free. I don’t have to be afraid anymore.” We hug them and welcome them into the kingdom of God. Eyes just minutes ago filled with fear are now sparkling with peace.
John 8:36: “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” Though these newborn babes will finish their sentences behind bars they are now free.
We look back at the prison as the van pulls away from the gate. “Do you see Him?” someone asks.
“Jesus,” comes the reply. “We are leaving but Jesus stays inside, walking the ranges, checking the cells, ready to dry tears of loneliness in the long nights, eager to comfort the afflicted who repent.”
Perhaps as you read this you realize you too are in a prison. No, not a prisoner of concrete and steel but circumstance, habit, vice or mental anguish. Turn to Jesus. Ask His forgiveness. Invite Him into your life to be your Lord. Jesus will set you free just like the prisoners at Collins Bay Correctional Institute.
By Claude Rivest