Andrew Breeden

I would like to tell you a story about prisons and prison inmates. The story is contrary to stereotype and myth; you wouldn’t hear it on the news or see it in a movie. I hope it will make you think twice about the degrees of difference we establish among people and give you pause before you remember others only for the worst and most shameful thing they have ever done. The story is about one of my weekly conversations with a group of inmates at the state penitentiary. Mostly, it’s a story about how I went streaking one night and how grace caught me by surprise.

Loafers FTR dsc_4711 copyI don’t recall what led to my confession. Maybe we had reached a lull in the conversation and were filling the gap by owning up to our less than glorious moments. Maybe I decided to come clean once and for all. Maybe I felt that the inmates had taken one look at me and decided that while they knew plenty of scandal, I had none of my own to report. So I lay my account before them.

After my disclosure, I realized that the inmates had misjudged me. I could see it in their expressions. Some were amused, others appalled, one was amused and appalled. My external appearance had duped them into believing that I was a prude. In that moment, I also realized that I was a criminal. Streaking is, as far as I know, a crime in most states. Celebrating the end of the fall semester by running down the street with nothing on but the cold December air had seemed like a good idea at the time. Had I considered the possible legal outcome of my midnight run, I might have made a different choice. Lucky for me, I did not get caught.

Moments of enlightenment occur at odd times and in strange places. In the same way, grace comes out of the blue and is often unannounced, like a thunderstorm in the summer or a headache. Sometimes grace is awful. At other times, it is embarrassing or subtle. We may recognize it later, and then only because we are sore from its grip. Sometimes grace arises from our mistakes, whether or not we knew they were mistakes. The funny thing about grace is that we may not recognize it, but we are changed nonetheless.

Streaking dsc_4690 copyIn many respects, the inmates are a lot like me, and I am like them. Some of them remind me of people I know from my hometown or people I grew up with. Some of them are from my hometown. We know the same places and people; we hold memories in common. But the beauty of it all did not strike me until I told my story and remembered running down the street that night in nothing but my loafers. Don’t misunderstand me. I do not minimize the damage they have inflicted on themselves, their families, and society. I don’t mean to say that my crime carries the same consequences, realities, and shame as theirs. But that night, I too was a criminal. So I shall remain a little more like them than I had thought.



What circumstances or events in your life have led you to realize that you aren’t all that different from other people? As you go through the week, think about the others in your life. In what ways are you like them—ways you had failed to consider before?

Photos by Linda Furtado

Andrew Breeden is from Charlotte, Tennessee.

—from devozine (March/April 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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