After our second session at the Philly Detention Center, Anna, one of our team leaders said she was having some difficulties with John*, one of the men on her team. He wasn’t focusing, following directions well, or respecting her as the team leader. John was a hardened guy who we later learned had spent many of his 46 years locked up, starting at age 12.
The next day we played Casting Crown’s song “And Now My Lifesong Sings” for our group, as they were going to be performing this in the final presentation. Part way through the song, Kelly nudged me and directed me to observe Anna’s challenger in the back row. He was trying very, very hard to not show any emotion but had to constantly use his hands to wipe the tears that were pouring from his eyes.
Then our dance leader began to teach the entire group sign language for the chorus of the song. Using his hands to sign meant John couldn’t continue to wipe the tears, so he had to step to the side. As his team leader, Anna soon checked in with him and they interacted for quite a while.
That night, Anna shared with amazement that she and John had shared a good day together. John told Anna that he had become overwhelmed in the song because it a reminded him of his daughter. He continued that a few years before, his 9 year old daughter had been at dance practice when a few gang members began shooting at each other on the street nearby. A stray bullet hit his daughter and she died soon after. John said he had responded in anger, leading him to prison. As all these memories rushed back to him, they resulted in uncontrollable tears, overwhelming him because he hadn’t ever cried in his life.
Through the following days, John cried a lot. He kept saying he couldn’t stop crying whenever he heard these songs about God. He was especially perplexed because he had given up on God in anger over the tragedy with his daughter. He was also stressed about how this reflected on his tough guy image throughout the jail.
After 2 weeks of this, John had a whole new view of himself. He found he could let down his guard and be joyful. He was amazed that the men around him were supportive of him in his struggles. At the end of each of the presentations for 200 men in the jail, he took the mic to share with everyone that in the past few days he had started to believe there was a God, because he had experienced something that he couldn’t explain, something unlike anything he had ever experienced before.
Nonbelievers and believers often take significant steps in their faith journey through the Workshop experience. Of the 154 Workshops participants in 2017, 87% made some sort of faith commitment through the experience. In a participant survey at one prison 14 months after their Workshop experience, 89% said they were living out their faith differently over a year later!
Using creative processes in the performing arts we have seen so many lives changed in ways that are proving to lead to whole new directions for their futures. Today we begin our 3rd day of a Workshop at the maximum security prison in Frackville, PA. We are seeing the same kinds of stories unfold here. Thank you for your support!