Do Not Pass Go

“But the Lord said [to Cain], ‘What have you done?’” ~Genesis 4:10

I had an opportunity last week to tour Weld County Jail. The tour was fascinating. Escorted by the Sheriff and a deputy, we got to go into areas of the jail not accessible to the public. There were no bars and there were no black and white striped suits. Instead, we paraded through halls looking through one way glass at murderers, sex offenders, kidnappers, and drunk drivers all waiting to face their accusers in court. Most of the people in county jails are those individuals who couldn’t make bail; and for a lot of them, it’s their last stop before a judge sentences them to state or federal prison.

After the tour, I walked out with the sheriff and thanked him for his time.

“I thought it was very interesting what Officer Vasquez said about the jail offering rehabilitation for people too,” I said, mostly trying to make conversation.

He shrugged. “I don’t really get into all that touchy feely stuff.”

His comment troubled me. In fact, the whole thing troubled me. I’d been prepared for this shock-value experience of “prison is a bad place kids.” We certainly got that. From tasting the food, to witnessing a riot, to seeing someone get tazed, it thoroughly affirmed my desire to remain a law abiding citizen. At the same time, we also saw people. We heard stories of people that got high and made mistakes. We talked about people who had tried to cover up one little accident and wound up creating a big mess that ruined dozens of lives. We met people who in the process of escaping pain had destroyed communities.

After a bit of an awkward pause, I replied, “I guess there are some pretty bad people in there,” trying to keep the conversation with the sheriff amiable.

That’s when he said something that stuck with me. “Everyone in there,” he said, “is a criminal. And you have to remember, they chose to be a criminal. That doesn’t mean they’re ALL bad people, but they did whatever they did because they chose to do it. They’re here because their choices led them to here.”

It made me think of the story in Genesis when Cain kills his brother Abel. Of course when God confronts Cain, Cain plays dumb and ignores the problem. That’s when God asks him, “What have you done?”

I think this is an important question for us to ask ourselves. If we don’t examine our behaviors, our morals, or our actions, we might lose sight of who we want to be. More importantly, we might lose sight of who we are…beloved children of God.

In reality, we choose to put ourselves in jail all the time. We build all kinds of jails—from fear, anger, guilt, expectations, etc. And when we get stuck in these cages, it’s easy to feel like a victim. That’s where I think Cain comes in. We have to ask ourselves, “What have I done” to get me to this place? And regardless of the answer, because we are beloved children of God, there is tremendous hope. That hope is what Lent and Easter are all about. It is a time to be reminded that God does not condemn anyone to jail. He has set us free and we can choose to leave the cages anytime we want.

The moral of the story…”prison is a bad place kids.”

Zach Herzog

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