Waupun, population ~12,000, is home to not one, not two, but three prisons – two maximum security and one minimum. I’ve been leading a Bible Study at the maximum security Waupun Correctional Institution for about 7 years. It’s an architecturally beautiful structure right in the center of town. I’m there on the second and fourth Thursdays from 12:30 to 2. No real prep is required for these studies: usually I just take a recent sermon I’ve preached at church and half preach it, half discuss it with the guys who come.
But this past Saturday I went to the Walls to preach at the Saturday chapel. I had done it once before, but Saturday is not the best day for me. It’s usually the day I’m writing out my sermon (I manuscript it, about 95%word for word) so sometimes I think of it like a 12 – 14 page term paper every week. Saturday is always a crunch day for me, so taking 2 hours in the middle of the day can be a little scary. This past Saturday, at the day’s halfway mark, I was at a nice place in my preparation, and I headed off to preach in a good mood.
Shortly after noon, I got to the front gate, and was met by Todd, the correctional officer who oversees the chapel most days when I come. He’s a gregarious guy, friendly, seems to enjoy his work, and though he’s usually not at the front gate, everything is different on weekends. Someone had to be there to escort me in – what the correctional officers affectionately call a “ride,” and Todd was the guy to do the job. Todd says he’s going to visit our church…and read my blog. You out there, Todd?
My first few times visiting the prison years back were intimidating. I thought once to count the number of gates and metal doors I had to pass through to get in. Suffice it to say, there were a lot. I don’t know if claustrophobia comes from being in locked places that are not easily exited, but if so, I can see how someone with such a malady would have a very difficult time in the Walls. Todd and I walked through the many accesses until we reached the large inner courtyard. Usually the place is a beehive of activity, prisoners and guards walking about, but on Saturday, it felt like a ghost town.
We proceeded to the chapel building, where I met one of the two prison chaplains at the Walls, Chaplain Francis, a man who has become a friend through the years. He’s a catholic from India, and returns home for a month-long visit almost every year. He greeted me downstairs in his office, and then I went to a medium sized room where I looked over my sermon for 10 minutes or so. Around 12:30 p.m., he escorted me upstairs to the large chapel…
Part 2 is here.