My Time In Prison

I spent last Sunday visiting with my oldest brother in a larger steel room.  The back wall was lined with a row of vending machines that looked no less than 30 years old.  Mom, Dad, Myself and my brother’s youngest daughter, all emptied the contents of our pockets into the trunk of the car, with the exception of our drivers license.  We then walked across the parking lot to the appointed security check point to wait with others who were arriving to visit their friend or loved one.  Welcome to the Marion Correctional Institute.

My brother turned 48 years old the day before my visit.  This is not his first time behind bars, but it is the longest sentence he has had to serve.  Tracy will be 52 years old when he will taste freedom again.  I just have to wonder if he will truly be free on the day he hears that dreaded click of the thick dead-bolt, and the sound of the large razor wire gate slide for the last time?  What is freedom?

We arrived just before 10:00 am, but had to wait almost an hour for him to appear through the doorway.  As I sat there talking with my family I felt pain pressing on my chest, I had to fight back the tears.  I’ve sung and ministered in many prisons over the years, but never have I witnessed the other side of the multi-layered stories like I did this day.  The actions of one person effect many.  I felt the sadness for my brother, but to look around this cold grey room and see so many children broke my heart on a new level.  The room was full of little girls and boys wearing their Sunday best.  The boys were standing as tall as they could stand and flexing their muscles to show their dad’s how much they’ve grown and how strong they are, and the little girls were modeling the ribbons that were tied into bows and placed so perfectly in their hair.  One little girl just down the table from where we sat, twirled in her blue and white sun-dress, as if she was asking her father if she was beautiful.  “Do I captivate you daddy?”  “Are you proud of how big I’m getting daddy?”   These were the questions I heard as she spun around with a smile.  I had to wonder if she would settle for prison bars when she gets older?  Will she think that this is all there is to life?  My heart broke even more.

We did not tell my brother I was coming to see him.  I was a birthday surprise.  I kept my back to the door until I could spin around to catch that quick look of shock that last for but a moment.  I think I was the one stunned by the fact that I could get my arms around him.  Tracy was a big boy when he was first arrested, now I can wrap my arms all the way around him and grab my wrist.  I was so excited to see how hard he’s worked to get back into shape, but in the same moment of “happy for him” I felt that same singe of pain pierce my gut as I looked into a face that has aged greatly.

We talked about a lot of things as the hours passed by.  Everyone shared their updates to what was going on in daily living, the things that are no fun to share in letters.  I teased my brother a bit.  I have a new friend who happens to be a US Marshall, so with a grin, I asked my brother how he felt about that.  He laughed as he gave me a slight nod of his head that said, alright smart-alec!  How can two apples falling from the same tree be so different?  Are we all that different?

For my faithful readers, you will remember me asking you to pray for this visit in my post, “What Is Our Hope In This Moment”.  I was starting to wonder if God was going to give me the opportunity to talk with Tracy about his decisions in life and the state of his heart.  He has obviously been searching to fill an internal void, and he is bound by addictions that are robbing him of all he truly longs for – freedom and pure love.   With the hours passing and not a hint of seeing a moment to talk with him, I began to whisper prayers for God to give me a window of opportunity and allow me the wisdom to not miss it.  I got one minute!

My parents and my niece stood and walked to the vending machines to grab a snack, so I seized the moment.  I turned to my brother and asked him if he had been going to any of the chapel services.  He said, “No.”  “I’ve been spending time studying the Native spirits with a group of guys.  We sit outside and experiencing nature.  I look up and allow the sun to warm my face and breath.  I’ve never felt peace like this.”  Before I had time to think, these words came flying out of my mouth, “Yes, I’m sure you are experiencing a lot of peace at the moment, but even these spirits must bow to Jesus.”  He looked at me with eyes that knew I was speaking truth.  Then I said, “Tracy, they deceive you.  If you continue down this path, they will kill you.”  I was shocked by the words that I spoke!  Again, his eyes were screaming that he knew I was right.  I proceeded to ask him if he’s read his Bible at all?  He told me he had not and then listed a number of reasons why.  He’s learning Spanish and sign language while in there so he “hasn’t had much time to read anything else.”  I simply asked him what was more important and what he was so afraid of.  The others were on their way back to where we were seated, so my final question in this 60 second window was, “You know I love you?”  He answered, “Yes, I know.”

Our visit was coming to a close, so we all walked outside into the court-yard.  It was here that God opened up the conversation for all of us to talk about Him.  My dad had no idea of all that has been on my heart for my brother, and had not heard all that was spoken in the previous hour.  My dad, unknowingly, spoke the same words of warning to Tracy.  Mom spoke, I spoke, and Tracy shared while he clung tightly to his daughter.  We all talked in a way that is usually foreign when my dad and brother are together – it was calm and peaceful.  I could almost physically feel the principalities and powers drop to their knees every time we mentioned the name of Jesus, so I took every chance to speak His mighty name.  On the way into the prison that morning I grabbed my family and told then I wanted to pray.  My prayer went like this, “JESUS!  Nothing less.  Amen.”

Though my heart ached with the reality of the warning of life or death given to my brother, I walked out of the prison knowing that God had sent us on this day for a specific reason – He loves my brother.

Two apples from the same tree sit side by side.  One apple is aging from the elements of his life chosen.  He chose to break away from the life-giving vine to pursue a greener pasture.  Now he finds himself fading fast because the greener grass was nothing more than an illusion.  He’s sinking in worm filled mud.  The other apple is still being nurtured because it is clinging with all its might to the vine, and the vine holds tight to it.  What’s special about this tree of life is it will allow the apples that roll away to come back.  Are these apples all that different from each other?  No, not on their own.  They’re only different if one remains in the vine and the other seeks a different pasture a part from the vine.  The difference is a matter of life or death.

Freedom is not found by detaching from the vine, or by walking on this side of the prison fence.  There are many who cross our paths on a daily basis that are imprisoned by the lure of the spirits of this world and by their own selfish desires.  The only freedom to be found is in surrender to Christ.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” – Rom. 8:2

The visit with my brother was a reminder to me that this “apple” has a huge responsibility to call out to those who’ve rolled away from their life source.

Please continue to pray with me for my brother.  May the seed that was planted on July 9th take root in fertile soil, and may God bring forth a mighty harvest from it.  To God Be All Glory!


2011, Keeping It Real!


  1. Lori said,

    07/20/2011 at 11:50

    Shannon, thank you for sharing your very personal situation. We serve a mighty God and there is nothing that HE can not do. I pray that the seeds that were planted will take root and that Tracy will be able to speak the name of Jesus and know HIS greatness and love. Joe and I will continue to pray for Tracy, you, and your family.

  2. Pedro said,

    07/20/2011 at 11:50

    Shannan, thank you for sharing your experience. You were so courageous and bold in telling your brother the truth. I pray that the seed you planted during your visit sprouts and grows into a beautiful tree yielding much fruit. God bless you Shannan.

  3. Kevin said,

    07/20/2011 at 11:50

    Love this Shannan.

    “They’re only different if one remains in the vine and the other seeks a different pasture a part from the vine. The difference is a matter of life or death.”

    Thank you

  4. Clinton said,

    07/20/2011 at 11:50

    Shannan, thank you for sharing your very personal situation.
    We have a wonderful God, and there is nothiing that he can not do.

    I pray that the seeds that were planted will take root, and Tracy will be able to speak the name of Jesus and know his greatness and love, we pray for a miracle that your brother will get saved.

    Loraine and I will continue to pray for Tracy,you, and your family, God bless you, we love you.


    Clinton & Loraine

  5. 07/22/2011 at 11:50

    The choices and present repercussions has been so well stated her. I admire your ability and such a desire to share the Gospel with your brother. The visual image of young children meeting their parents at prison is so compelling. My brother chose this route several times during his life, but avoided prison. I didn’t know how significant the difference was. He passed away suddenly, and his son (my nephew) has exceeded his time in prison in just a few years. He is in his early 20’s and is headed back to prison next month for the 2nd time. It is difficult to understand how the entire family can choose one route while another chooses the most difficult route. I pray your words ~ and your prayers ~ will have an eternal impact on your brother.

  6. 07/22/2011 at 11:50

    I appreciate each one of you that continue to love me by praying for my family. I cannot tell you how much you all encourage me as you share your thoughts and life’s stories. Through your testimonies and words of encouragement I too find strength. Thank You!

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