Sacred Stories | Incarcerated

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ — Matthew 25:40

One day during routine chaplain visits, I noticed a man in his 20s who was a patient in the cardiovascular unit. I thought it was an unusual place for someone close to my age, so I went in to visit him. The patient, whom I’ll call Michael, seemed nice enough and had two visitors, so I thought it would be a fairly standard visit.

Michael complained that he could not contact his wife and newborn and was worried about them. “Why can’t you contact them?” I asked. For a moment, he looked at me rather sheepishly, then  answered, “Because I’m incarcerated.”

I looked at the room around me in a new light. That explained why the two visitors had been only half-listening to our conversation. I then realized that they were in uniforms and wore guns. They were guards, not family members. It also explained why the patient could not contact his family. Michael was out of prison only because of the severity of his condition; he still had no right to call his wife. 

Like it or not, that one word — incarcerated —changed the way I looked at the room around me and the person before me. But then, something happened that changed the way I looked at Michael yet again. He said, “I just don’t want my child to be like me.” Before I could think of anything to say, comfort came from an unlikely source. One of the guards  said, “You’re not all bad, Michael. There’s good in you, whether you see it or not.” Michael and I were both caught off-guard.

After that, I saw him as I believe God saw him: as a hurting individual in need of comfort because of his fear of the hospital and his longing for his family. God had provided comfort to him through an unlikely source.

The guard’s caring words reminded me of God’s compassion, which made the moment sacred for me. Michael and I were just two young men, talking about things that seemed much larger than either of us. But when I momentarily lost my awareness that Michael, in spite of his incarceration, had dignity and infinite worth as a person created in God’s image, God was kind enough to comfort Michael and refocus me. We were able to talk for a long time about things both big and small. When it was time to go, he asked me to pray for him and his family. God was present for both of us.

Shared from the Sacred Stories Archive

Questions for Reflection

When is it harder for you to see people as God sees them–as people of “dignity and infinite worth”?

How has God helped you to refocus and see the good in the least of your brothers and sisters in your daily work?

About Sacred Stories

As CommonSpirit Health, we make the healing presence of God known in our world by improving the health of
the people we serve, especially those who are vulnerable, while we advance social justice for all.

Sacred Stories convey ways our mission is being lived out by the gifted people in our ministry. We invite you to
use these stories for inspiration, as a meeting reflection, or to encourage discussion with your team.