We didn't have air conditioning... this was how we found a bit of a cool breeze on a hot summer day.
One day last week I was driving to work and needed a break from the baseball talk that was on the radio, so I switched over to NPR. There I heard David Boeri reporting on the hot conditions of a Cambridge jail. The jail - which is designed to hold 160 - is currently home to over 400 inmates who are waiting for trial to find out what their fate will be. The jails in the state of Massachusetts are notoriously falling apart and overcrowded, and as anyone knows when you get too many people crammed into one place - it is rare that anything good comes from that.
Add to that a lack of air conditioning during some of the hottest days of the year, as well as the presumed short-fuses that many criminals tend to have - and what you have on your hands is a potential for disaster.
Unless... unless you remember that these are human beings being kept within the overcrowded walls of the jail. Human beings who are overheating and anxious as they have no idea what the fate of the next months or years of their lives will be. Human beings with families that they are likely stressed about whether or not they'll ever see again. Human beings that may be living with the guilt of their crimes.
Human beings who, at their core, want nothing more than compassion and love just like the rest of us.
So when you come to this realization, what do you do with it? Do you ignore it and write these people off as mere criminals who should rot in the cells and suffer with their emotions & heat? If you are one of the officers of this facility, do you ignore it... or do you listen to the strings being pulled on your heart and offer an ounce of compassion?
In this case... they chose compassion.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
If you've never had a freeze pop, it really is a quick way to boost your sugar level and cool off for a few minutes when you're drained in hot, disgusting weather. And they are incredibly inexpensive - as the folks in the story mention, they are about $0.03/each. These little tubes of sugar water can be incredibly refreshing when you think that the heat will never end. I don't know what it was that inspired the prison worker who's idea this was to hand these out, but whatever the inspiration it clearly was one with heart behind it. I don't know the prison worker's religious standing, but we can certainly look at his simple actions as an act of what Jesus has called us to... compassion, love for one another, and a heart for those in our society who have been outcast - in this case because of their actions.
But all 400-odd prisoners are God's children. They may have strayed, but they still belong to Him and in each of them - He is there.
I think back to those sweat-drenching summer days, trying to find the article of clothing that would best keep me cool to wear that day and hoping there were freeze pops on-hand someplace to give me a bit of respite. I would like to think that maybe the worker's inspiration came from a memory similar to mine, and maybe in those few moments while they're chomping on sugar ice for a bit of a cool down the inmates can close their eyes and have similar nostalgic moments. I picture a group of 5 or 6 inmates, sitting near a fan or window, eyes closed, freeze pop tube to their lips, finding those brief moments of respite from the heat.
And maybe for the first time in a long time feeling like someone cares enough about them to notice how they're feeling. Cares enough to reach out and even with a simple gesture acknowledge that even though they are caged... they are still God's children, they are still loved.
In the simple act of a freeze-pop, these inmates are able to experience a bit of love & heaven in an otherwise hellish atmosphere.
“...it’s a nice gesture — it says that ‘We care that you’re hot, cool you down for a few minutes,’ you know, they don’t have to do this. They treat you good here. They treat you like human beings.” - Robert Asarian, prisoner - one year away from trial
Click here to read the whole story - At the Middlesex Jail, Simple Gestures Help Keep the Peace