Jimmy Red Shoes: A bruised reed he will not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench
With an inmate population at Rockview State Prison that fluctuates between 2000 to 2700 inmates, it’s no surprise that there are active, vibrant faith communities “inside the walls” right off Route 26, just past the Nittany Mall.
I’d been going into Rockview for church once a month for a few years when my coworker Jennifer had a terrible car accident on Route 350 on the top of Bald Eagle Mountain on a Saturday night. I had not yet experienced (let alone personally practiced) the type of prayer that you see inside jails – quick and confident. Early on Sunday I got a phone call that Jenn was in very bad shape. It had been a head-on collision. Jenn was life-flighted, and her family was told to prepare for the worst (later I found out her aorta was partially severed along with other serious injuries).
As I walked into the beautiful stone chapel at Rockview, the first person I saw was Jimmy Red Shoes. Jimmy got this prison nickname because shiny red leather sneakers were available cheaply at the prison commissary. Jimmy wore them all the time. I saw Jimmy Red Shoes, told him about Jenn’s accident and asked him to pray for her. In my fashion, typical for me at that time, I went into the church service and participated, just like every other week. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t even remember if I prayed for Jenn at church that morning – honestly, it was probably a coin-toss.
As I came out of church I saw Jimmy again, just outside the sanctuary, near the chaplain’s office. In a somewhat condescending, haughty tone, I admonished HIM not to forget to pray for Jenn. Jimmy looked at me, kind of confused, and very matter-of-factly said “what do I think I have been doing for the last hour”. Now I was the one with the confused look. He told me that right after I had asked him to pray, instead of going into the service, he had found a prayer friend from a group he prayed regularly with, asked the chaplain if they could use one of the offices, and prayed the whole time the rest of us were in church!
Jenn’s recovery was so rapid and complete that even her doctors called it a miracle. When I told Jenn about Jimmy she cried. Jimmy was very happy too but was not as shocked as me at the miracle of that Sunday morning prayer. His faithful, fervent prayer was also confident and sure – like calling a good friend and asking for a hand. It had a power and direct impact on Jenn’s physical life, and also on my spiritual life. I went into this ministry thinking I was going to save other people. What Jimmy taught me was to shut up and pray.
Isaiah 42 speaks of “A bruised reed (that) he will not break” and of “a dimly burning wick”; Of “bring(ing) out the prisoners from the dungeon; from the prison, those who sit in darkness.” I tell this story often and remember the day I went INTO our local jail to be shown the weak dimness of my prayer and prayer life. Who was the better friend to Jenn? As a prison minister, was I saving Jimmy, or did Jimmy save me? That Sunday, Jimmy’s actions were the shining light.
Jesus used Jimmy to reignite some smoldering wicks.
The people of Grace share their favorite bible stories for the 2023 Lenten Devotional: I Love to Tell the Story. Each day's devotional will be automatically posted so come back daily after 7 am for a new reflection.