Recently, I left Martin Luther Lutheran Church after worship to head home from Mobile to Daphne, Ala., My son was with me on my motorcycle, and we drove together across the Bay Bridge in the August heat. I always enjoy the ride, even if it’s a hot and sweaty day.
As we reached the Baldwin County side of the bay, it seemed like something flew past the side of my face. I looked around, but there was nothing out of the ordinary, so I wrote it off as nothing to be concerned about.
But I was wrong. After worship, I had slid a reimbursement check (for a substantial amount) into my shirt pocket to take home. The danger it would face on the windy ride back had not occurred to me at the time. I reached into my pocket, but there was nothing there.
My check was gone with the wind.
A surprise call
One afternoon, three days later, I got a call at church. The caller explained, in an amazed tone, that a prisoner on a work release detail had found a check while collecting trash on Interstate 10 in the Daphne/Spanish Fort area. It turns out that it was my check, and she explained that the inmate had given it to the corrections officer on the detail. If I wanted it, I could pick it up at the prison in Loxley.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the truly amazing thing, she continued, is that the “Pay to the order of” line was blank.
I could hardly believe my ears!
Defying all preconceived notions or Hollywood stereotypes about prison inmates, this convicted criminal turned in a check that he could have kept or given to a family member to cash legally and with impunity. He could have kept it, but he didn’t. He wanted to give it back to its rightful owner.
When I arrived at the prison in Loxley, I was more than a little nervous. Dozens of inmates were returning from their day’s work and were going through the guardhouse to enter the barbed-wire encircled confines of the prison.
I spoke with the corrections officer at the gate, trying to find out where I could pick up my check. He had no idea what I was talking about. However, an inmate standing nearby overheard our conversation and happily exclaimed, “I know what you’re talking about!” He had already heard about the person on the work detail who had found a check with no payee. Every other inmate standing with us had heard about it as well. They all liked the fact that a fellow prisoner had turned it in instead of keeping it (and they all knew how much it was worth, too).
As I was escorted by an officer behind the barbed wire and into the office area, I walked by some 30 or 40 inmates. I stopped and chatted with several people during my time there. Every single person, a “convict,” was friendly, courteous and pleasant. Every single person respectfully referred to me as, “Sir.”
Christ at work
It was an amazing — in fact, an uplifting — experience.
In reflecting upon that day, I am reminded of how Jesus told us that in feeding a hungry person, clothing a stranger or visiting someone in prison we are actually doing that for a “member of (his) family.” In fact, he says that in serving others, “You did it to me.”
I had always heard that as Jesus encouraging us to serve, and that in serving, we would be helping Christ. On that day in the Loxley prison, however, I discovered that in visiting these prisoners I had actually experienced Christ serving me.
Christ was at work in this man, when he found my lost pearl in the form of a reimbursement check on the side of the Interstate. Christ was at work in this man, as the story of his service and integrity spread throughout the prison population and the front office.
Christ was at work in this man, whom I have not even met, as he made up for my mistake and shortsightedness, and as he witnessed to me that Christ is at work in our world in places that we don’t expect to see him.
And now, you too are a part of the story.
Let us all strive to be the person of Christ whom I experienced in the person of this convicted criminal.
Find a link to Michael Huntley’s entry at ELCA Southeastern Synod Blog at Lutheran Blogs.