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Unhindered Grace: My visit with inmates at the Estell Prison Unit

May 17, 2016 by Scott Jacobs

Recently, I got the chance to spend a few days in the Estelle Prison Unit. It wasn’t until the very last day that I fully understood why we were there.

The speaker was Santo Stephens, a former NFL player. He had a pretty powerful testimony and as he started to wrap up his talk momentum was building. You could tell he was really connecting with the inmates. He was pushing towards the big finale, where he would ask who was ready to make a commitment for Christ. Then my fellow teammates and I would pull them into little huddles.

I started glancing around near me, looking to find a few guys to group up with and go through the tract that the Bill Glass team provides. I had dutifully used the little fold-out glossy tract several times by this point, with varying degrees of success. Mostly it seemed like I only got through to those who already professed at least some belief before. There were also those who seemed to just be going through the motions and read through the tract, but didn’t really commit to much. I was still chalking those up as wins, because at least they were hearing and saying the words. Maybe at some point in their lives, those mumbled words from that little tract would weigh on their hearts and begin to take root.

As Santo finished up, I turned around looking for raised hands. Directly behind me two of the hardest-looking dudes I’d seen all weekend were staring at me, hands raised. Both were fully tatted up, most of their faces and necks covered in ink, staring me down with spine-chilling intensity. But something else stood out to me, both of their eyes were welling up with tears.

I steeled myself and tried to break the ice. I learned their names and where they were from. All the while they were eyeing my envelope with the tracts. I gave them each a tract and started through it, just reading the thing verbatim, occasionally looking up to see heads bobbing and eyes starting to let loose a few of those tears. The whole time I felt almost as if I was having an out-of-body experience reading the verses and questions on the page, then hearing the hunger from these guys in their answers.

At the end of the tract there is a confirmation prayer. In all the times I’d heard it repeated, none had prayed it with the power and sincerity in their voices. When we finished, I was shell-shocked. I drew them together in a little huddle and prayed with them again. I asked God to watch over them in that evil place. I listened as they prayed for each other, promising to keep each other accountable and strong.

We finally began to say our goodbyes, and it hit me that they were leaving as completely different men than they had been just an hour before.

This encounter drove home the idea that we are just conduits for this Light that gets channeled through us. I had no control over what happened out there. I could have just as easily been a mannequin. I turned around and just happened to be at the exact right place when God touched the hearts of these two men.

You don’t have to be Bill Glass or Billy Graham, you just have to be there with a little glossy pamphlet in your hand, hand it off, and get out of the way.