As a guest at Kairos Outside # 44, I, along with the Reverend Susan McKee, experienced more than can be told and this weekend, like all experiences, was ineffable. The best we can do is to try to provide a frame of sorts that captures the three days spent in the company of women who have been impacted by incarceration at some point in their lives. A guest might be a mother, a sister, a daughter, or girlfriend. And, in some cases, the guest herself has been incarcerated.
What did we see, experience, and frame? First, there was the unmistakable diversity among guests. When we walked in Friday afternoon, we saw at least five women with shades of purple hair. As folks who had serious reservations about attending this weekend, the sight of the purple-haired women confirmed our fear that being there was indeed a huge mistake. (It was not at all a mistake). Next, the diversity of age became apparent. Young, middle-aged, old, and even, old-old women were there, each for her own reason, some rocking comfortably in the many chairs which held Caucasian, Latina, and women of color, all chatting and waiting expectantly for what was to come.
Finally, perhaps the greatest face of diversity we found at Kairos is that it slowly became obvious that we were not in a room filled with Episcopalians. The differences in denominational preference was one of the weekend's greatest strengths. All participants (maybe 60 or so) interacted mostly with the same five or six women over the two-day weekend. We never knew what church any of our table-mates attended, and what was remarkable to us is that we shared deep feelings and deep acceptance of one another without needing to know church affiliation. Denomination, skin color and age do not matter even a little bit in Kairos. Oh, the purple-haired women? They were team members who had dyed their hair purple in support of a friend (another team member whose brain cancer had grown from stage 3 to stage 4 between Kairos sessions). By the way, she was there in her purple-haired glory, the entire weekend, loving others who needed her unique way of showing God’s love and compassion for them.
When the pain of having a loved one separated from you by steel bars and barbed wire reaches deep into your very being, self-love tends to evaporate and becomes self-doubt. It may even become self-hate, perhaps because it is hard to let go of the feeling that you might be partly to blame for this deeply problematic situation of the incarceration of one whom we love.
The Kairos Outside experience is like no other. Many come in pain, their trust eroded, and hope for a better future dim or non-existent. The weekend cannot solve all these deeply personal issues but what it can and does achieve is the dawning recognition and acceptance of unconditional love from others and from God. We feel shame when our son, daughter, husband, sister, mother is behind bars. Though many and varied experiences, the love and acceptance of us as who we really are sometimes brought tears of sorrow and pain. As the weekend ended, the tears were of another kind of ineffable experience - the joy of the knowledge of who we are to God, loved unconditionally, freely forgiven, with the experience of a love which sets one free from self-blame and releases the joy of new possibilities.
At Kairos Outside, for the sake of trust and privacy, we keep identities as well as words shared, completely confidential. Such times as these must, by their very nature be framed only within our hearts and minds. Guests are never asked about the reason for the incarceration nor is anything shared at Kairos ever shared outside of Kairos. These principles are the ground of the success of the program. Without the assurance of confidentiality, the love that is freely given during the weekend could fast become meaningless. The Kairos experience would be nothing with a lack of trust.
What did we bring back to the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast? We brought a new understanding that pain, even though buried for years, can turn into joy. Our Kairos Outside team served us in every way possible to show us this love. It was difficult to imagine that they, too, had once been where we were then.
We brought back laughter and the experience of love freely given and freely received. We also brought a new commitment to love and serve Jesus through those who in our communities are hurting because of their own incarceration or hurting because of the incarceration of a loved child, mother, father, or spouse.
We, Susan and I, each will serve on the team for the first Kairos Outside to be held in April 6-8, 2018, in the southern part of Alabama. Perhaps, for us, we found a new way of showing respect and love, "Listen, listen, love, love." We have tried it. It works.
If you would like more information about Kairos Outside and how you can help with Southern Alabama Kairos Outside #1, please contact one of us: The Rev. Deacon Susan McKee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 251-978-1144 Mrs. Catie Strickland at email@example.com or 334-372-2880
May God’s Peace be with you all,
For information about Kairos Inside contact any member of the Commission on Prison Ministry. For information about Kairos in general go to http://www.kairosprisonministry.org/index.php