It was May 9, 2008, and I was delivering mulch into Western Cor rectional Institute, a State minimum and maximum-security prison facility in Allegheny County, Maryland. This prison houses approximately 3,000 inmates and covers an area of 30 acres. I needed to arrive before 2:30 p.m., since the inmates would be in the yard all going back to the mess hall. I was to be out by then.
To enter I pass through two sets of double gates, the first being at the en trance. The man in the tower opens this gate electronically. I proceed through the entrance gate, shut off the truck engine, get out; open the truck hood and roll back the tarp covering the load. I am asked to hand over my cell phone, driver's license, and wallet. A complete search is made, using both mirrors and overhead observation. I also receive a special locking stick to padlock the steering wheel if necessary. I get back into the truck. A prison guard steps up onto the running board to ride along as a personal body-guard though he carries no gun. No guard inside the prison car ries a gun for self-protection. Inmates could overpower him and it be used on him. Sharpshooters in towers around the complex cover his movements. He relies on other means for defense too—two-way radios, mace, tear gas, and pepper sprays.
I then enter the second set of gates. Each are unlocked, one at a time. Fi nally I am allowed into the main prison yard. I proceed down a black top drive to the yard maintenance building. It too must be unlocked to allow entrance, and then relocked until I am unloaded and ready to leave.
I dump my load and am about to leave only to discover inmates are com ing from all over the complex, going to mess hall. Now I am prisoner for 15 min utes! It is a good time for reflection!
Four inmates are with me now and two guards. I ask a prisoner, "Are you soon out of here?" "No, I am in here for life." For life! I look around the com pound. Razor wire is everywhere, on top of the fences, at the base of fences, be tween rows of fences. Gates are all over the place and at each gate a guard stands watch. Sharpshooters occupy the watch towers. underground vibration detectors monitor movement. This prison holds a record of no escapes since opening in 1995. Formidable! The only hope of release is if somehow the governor of Maryland would grant him a pardon!
Then a song comes to mind, "I was in sin's prison..." held in the clutches of the evil one, and just as securely bound by all the strongholds this prison rep resents. unless there is power greater than myself for this helpless situation, I am here for life! But, the song goes on "Jesus signed my pardon." How am I to get this pardon? How can I even know about it? Is there somewhere a gate ajar? Can I risk my life to go check it out? If I am caught for trying to escape, it could put me forty days in isolation! Am I willing and ready to risk death that I my live and be free?
The song-writer concludes it was thus:
There is a gate that stands ajar And through its portals gleaming
A radiance from the Cross afar The Savior's love revealing.
That gate ajar stand free for all Who seek thro' it salvation
The rich and poor, the great and small, Of every tribe and nation
Oh, depth of mercy! Can it be That gate was left ajar for me?
For me, ........ for me? Was left ajar for me?
The men are now in their destina tions. The gate is unlocked. I leave. I have yet four locked gates to pass through. My truck will be searched again. I will receive my cell phone, my driver's license, my wallet; and then I am free!
I have now left the walls behind. I am no longer its prisoner, but free! I breathe a sigh of relief.
Have you found this freedom in Christ? If you have—share it!
- Clearville, PA