Last Saturday we went about 2 hours Southeast of Dallas to a transfer prison called the Gurney Unit. It houses 2100 male inmates and maximum stay time for anyone is 2 years. The ministry men basically go not knowing anything about the prison they are playing in and this trip was no different. We turned off the major highway in Corsicana, Texas and drove east about 50 miles. There was not much to look at other than a few houses and countryside. I guess they don't build prisons in highly populated tourist areas.
My first apprehension came when we finally entered the inmate area. I wasn't worried about inmates, but the fact that we were walking down the middle of a painted area that separated passing inmates. As a free person I didn't want to offend those who couldn't walk in the area. When I asked the Sergeant she said, "You're not a inmate so you get to walk down the middle." We continued our walk to the gym and walked by lines of inmates, 2 by 2, going from one place to another. All inmates were in white jumpsuits.
We got to the gym and there were about 70 men waiting for us, most sitting on the metal collapsable chairs. I would say the break down was about 90% black, 5% non-white or hispanic, and %5 white. We have no idea what they are in for, but since they were handpicked from 2100, I would assume they were non-violent offenders. A good majority of the men had tatoos and most were wearing government issued boots. We walked past the men and put our bags on the otherside of the gym. Sort of a separation between them and us, or white jerseys and red/black.
Most of the inmates were very nice, hospitable, and appreciative of our being there. As I said earlier, they complained about my reffing less than my own friends. I guess they play all the time without refs so anything our men dished out would have been minor. I did have one inmate who wasn't playing come up to me after one game and apologize for saying rude things to me. I said no problem and told him I didn't hear him anyway.
It was good for me to be around men that God created to worship HIM, although these men had made bad choices. Not once was I afraid for my own safety and really feel my interactions were probably more positive than if I played at an all day tournament at a YMCA. The inmates really did have positive attitudes.
We did eat a prison lunch: low grade balogna, cheese, choice of bread, greens, squash, beans, and some type of macaroni salad. The tea was good although the sweetener came in a bottle that could have doubled as an eye solution bottle.
Advice: get outside your comfort zone and see how others live. This was extreme, but it helped me to appreciate what a good friend is going through and it makes me appreciate all that I do have.