There is a walkway at the prison that most call the slab. It’s a quarter mile long, twenty-foot wide strip of concrete that runs down the center of the unit. All of the inmate movement happens there, whether going to chow, back to their blocks, or to the chapel.
My friends and I have to walk the length of the slab every visit to the prison, because the chapel is at the farthest end of the unit from the entrance gates. In the Texas summer, the slab gets so hot that many say you could fry an egg there, although I have tried to fry an egg on Texas concrete, and it didn’t work.
One of our first visits to the prison had us walking down the slab to the chapel. Along the way we walked past two inmates who were going the opposite direction (we always walk down the center of the slab, while the offenders have to walk within two narrow yellow lines on the edges.)
Halfway to the chapel, two inmates passed and one asked, “Where can I get a Bible? Can you get us a Bible?”
I was heartened—this was the whole point I was there, and I was getting requests for Bibles.
I went to the bookstore and bought two Bibles. The next week I took them into the prison, but couldn’t find the offenders, so they went undelivered.
Shortly afterwards, in a meeting with a new warden, we were instructed not to give anything to the inmates. I brought up to him the opportunity I had run into to get two inmates a Bible.
His response made an impression on me. “They don’t want a Bible,” he said. “They want to see what they can get out of you. One week it will be a Bible, the next week a pen, and so on. If they want a Bible, I can get them a Bible. I have a thousand Bibles in that closet over there.”
I learned that prisons are inundated with religious material, (which can actually cause a problem because it just piles up.)
I got the message that even as I was reaching out, I was being used. And perhaps the cause of Christ was being used.
I suppose we do have to be shrewd to make our ministry more effective