Harold Dean Trulear
Over the years in this column I have devoted significant space to the challenge of incarceration, and to churches’ role and responsibilities in light of the record numbers of men, women, and young people who populate our nation’s jails and prisons. But about two years ago, I experienced a different dimension of our criminal justice system when I became an inmate myself. As a recovering and redeemed alcoholic, I take full responsibility for the actions that led to my time in jail. And, in retrospect, I can gratefully claim the truth of God’s promise to work “all things together for good” for me. I learned much about the conditions of incarceration and grew as a human being. As I prepared to leave, I wrote the reflection below, both to capture a cathartic moment in the transition back home and to express a deep yearning for the church to increase its efforts and advocacy on behalf of all those affected by crime and incarceration. It is an honest prayer, with gratitude for God’s faithfulness to me, and petition for God’s church to “remember those who are in prison as imprisoned with them” (Heb. 13:3): Although I will not be for much longer, today, at the moment that I write this, I am inmate #10002648, George W. Hill Correctional Facility, Delaware County, Pa. Not the Rev. Trulear who pastored a church, not Dr. Trulear who commanded the attention of seminary students at Howard Divinity School, but an inmate with a number, sitting in a discharge cell at the end of a year of jail, furloughs, and work release. And thanking you, Lord. For I am not forgotten. As I look back over these past 12 months I see your care. You gave me a gracious sentence that allowed me to be home to care for my family Monday through Friday for 40 of the 52 weeks. You have been beside me my entire time here. You taught me what
it means to be a human being, using the cells and the cubes, the locks and the wire to remind me starkly that I am not in control. I am not forgotten. You see each inmate in every jail cell around the world. You tell believers to remember us in prison, but it is not clear to me that your church really does. Some remember to train a few folks to come in once a week or month. But I don’t know if they come because they remember us as brothers and sisters who hurt and yearn not to be forgotten, or because they remember to serve God and we are useful ob- “You taught me what it means jects of outreach and service, a duty to be checked off the list. to be a human being.” I am not forgotten. When I have, in spite of your promises, felt for- going to let me out? Though I have gotten, I have had to encourage myself paid an important debt, served time I in you, remind myself of the truth of deserved, and experienced the grace of your Word. I have had to remind oth- two years without a drink, I have this ers also, those who do not receive fam- last chance to remember, right now, ily visits as I did or mail from church what it feels like to be forgotten. Do members as I did, my people praying they know I am here? Does the larger for me by name and not just by cat- church? I am not forgotten. Looking at this egory. So many with me feel forgotten, because they are. In the past they were dirty cell, I recall author, prison miniseven forgotten by me, a one-time pas- ter, and former prisoner Lennie Spitale tor not far from this jail who purported coming to our jail church and remindto shepherd a church which included ing us that Paul’s letter to the church five women whose sons served time at Philippi was written in such a place. with me this year. I don’t know which is Spitale offered us this as a reminder worse—the shame of my incarceration that we are not forgotten. Tonight, or the shame of meeting their sons in my cellmate read Philippians 4 with me here instead of in church. The church again. I am not forgotten, but one last doesn’t so much need an outreach to the prison as it needs an outreach to time, before I leave this place, allow me those members whose loved ones are in to feel the pain of the forgotten. Lord, jail, to help reconnect them with each help me not to forget. other and with their God. We have Harold Dean Trulear is failed those who sit in our pews and associate professor of apsuffer in silence because they cannot plied theology at Howard share the pain of an incarcerated son, University School of Didaughter, spouse, dad, mom. They feel vinity in Washington, DC, forgotten... and director of the HealBut I am not forgotten. Sitting here alone in a solitary, trash-strewn ing Communities Prisoner Reentry Iniholding tank waiting for my discharge, tiative at the Philadelphia Leadership I do feel forgotten—Does the jailer re- Foundation (HealingCommunitiesUSA. member I am in here? Are they really org).
Photo courtesy of Gabriel City.com
I Am Not Forgotten
F aithful Citizenship