What I Learned In Jail
PASTOR JOSH LEE
In 2014 I was pastoring a church in Kentucky where I would frequent the county jail. It was here that I visited a man in his thirties, who was serving several years of time. During one of my visits, he shared about a new inmate on his cell block. This block consisted of twenty bunk beds all packed into a room with a few toilets and sinks. The day this inmate was brought into his cell, all of the men in the cell knew who he was because they had seen his face plastered all over the local news station in the recreation room. The men snickered at him and treated him harshly. But the man from my church got up from his bunk and moseyed over to gift him with a bar of soap.
The other inmates were irritated. “Tell me you didn’t just do that!” they snapped at him. And with that, the man from my church responded, “Do you remember when we first got put in here? Do you remember how people treated us? Do you remember how people assumed they knew our stories, our crimes, and assumed we were guilty? We’re all in here because we made mistakes; how is he any different?” After he said this, the aggressors simmered down and seemed to leave him alone. He shared with me the following week that he and this gentlemen had become friends and were attending Bible studies together.
This man in my church taught me a profound lesson that day. He helped me to see what unconditional love looks like. It would have been substantially easier for him to cast stones at their newest roommate, but instead, he decided to extend love and compassion. He realized that he was not called to be the judge and jury but that he was called to love. Love with no strings attached. Love no matter the human or the offense. At this moment, I realized that this man sitting across the table from me, in an orange prison jumpsuit, was more like Jesus than I ever strived to be. He didn’t allow someone’s past or present circumstances to prevent him from extending grace and friendship. When I asked him what motivated him to extend this sort of gesture, he simply reminded me that he was in no position to judge. He was in the same cell, and it wasn’t his place to cast the first stone.
This hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized how often I was quick to condemn many of the inmates who crossed my path in those jails, simply because I wasn’t sporting the color orange or shackled. However, when I left the jail that day, I realized I have my own shackles that I hide well, that if brought out into the light, perhaps I wouldn’t feel so righteous myself. I realized how quick and easy it is to judge others in an attempt to make yourself feel more righteous, or at least better than...You name it.
After every visit to the county jail, I would leave with one prayer on my heart: Jesus, help me to follow the lead of that man behind bars, help me to model his humility, give me a right view of myself so that I am quick to love and slow to condemn. Help me to love and befriend even when it’s hard and requires sacrifice. I saw you in that prison cell, and I finally understood what you meant when you said, I was in prison and you came to visit me (Matthew 25:36). I saw Jesus in that man!
Josh grew up in Elgin, IL, a suburb of Chicago. While attending Garrett Theological Seminary for his Masters of Divinity in May 2019 — he served at Kingswood United Methodist. Prior to this, he attended Moody Bible Institute for his Bachelors in Pastoral Ministry in May 2013. Both of these experiences have exposed him to a wide spectrum of theological and social thought. He has also served in many flavors of the church as he searched for an inclusive space to serve as he strived to reconcile his faith and sexuality. During that time he served in evangelical churches. Since joining our staff in January 2019, Josh's primary role is the Sunday morning service and teaching. He also provides pastoral care, oversight of building and grounds and implementing ways to communicate our mission and vision in the community and partnering with other organizations.