David, told me that while he was waiting for me to finish up with the oncology radiologist at the breast cancer clinic a woman came in wearing an orange prison uniform, arm-shackles and two prison guards at her side. It made me angry. Read further on to know why.
There are a group of amazing women who are trying to launch a home for women leaving prison who have nowhere to go and are willing to be part of a ministry of restoration. This transitional home, Haven House, was the vision of a woman who worked as a volunteer in the prisons for decades. Her main goal was to tell women who wanted to come to her Bible studies that God loved them. Ellen Campbell, now 92 years old, had to leave Juneau before seeing her dream for this home established but she mentored younger women who are seeing to it that this vision comes to fruition.
So, what does this have to do with my being angry hearing about the inmate coming to the hospital for breast cancer treatment in shackles and an orange jump suit? Well, it is a reminder that there are those organizations who want to help incarcerated women deal with fear and shame and then there are other institutions that don’t seem to give a flip. I will call this woman, Irene (a lovely name), because she deserves to be given a personal name rather than just ‘inmate.’ So, I try to imagine how Irene was feeling. Probably a little scared like I was, not knowing what to expect. But, unlike me, she probably felt self-conscious, judged, alone, conspicuous, and ashamed. I also had a loving husband standing by me, not two prison guards making sure my arms stayed shackled to a waist belt. Shackles? Really? Might she try to make a run for the mammogram room and push someone aside who was before her in line or run out of the hospital into single digit Buffalo NY temperatures carrying her cancer with her? Someone said that maybe she was violent. Maybe but I doubt it. Cancer has a way of disarming you. Irene will probably finish her incarceration and leave jail and whether cured of her cancer or not my prayer is that she will want to enter a supportive environment with other women who will give her encouragement, hope and the time to deal with a truck load of shame that more than likely began well before she came to the hospital shackled with cancer and cuffs. I hope there will be a Haven House for her.