December 16, 2020
Christmas 2020: Remember The Prisoner
Hygiene Bags for West Tennessee State Penitentiary – Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center
Before Covid-19 I went to prison every Tuesday and first Saturday of each month. I always returned to the freeworld at the end of my approved time to be in the prison. Since mid-February, visitors and volunteers, such as me, have been unable to enter the prison because of Covid-19. I remain captivated by the statement one woman made to me at the end of class on Tuesday or Saturday re-entry planning groups: she always said to me: “Remember the prisoner.”
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you took me in,
I was naked and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you visited me.
West Tennessee State Penitentiary (WTSP) is located about 60 miles north of Memphis in Henning, Tennessee. There is a facility for men and one for women on the grounds at WTSP. The women’s facility is known as the Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center (WTRC).
WTRC is unique in that, prior to Covid-19, the Tennessee Department of Corrections (TDOC) provided a vast and diverse array of innovative programming designed to help prepare the women for release and community reintegration. The primary goal of programming was to reduce the rate of recidivism. Many of these services were provided by volunteers from faith and other community-based organizations, like Chosen Vessel Ministries. With the shut-down, the isolation and disruption of family and community ties inherent in incarceration is exacerbated by the pandemic.
The good news is that though the women, their loved ones, TDOC staff, volunteers, and all who love and care about the well-being of the women contend with heightened stress and isolation, we take great comfort in knowing – there is HOPE! Empowered and strengthened by the source of all HOPE, Chosen Vessel Ministries joyfully join with many other volunteers to do what we can to bring a small measure of comfort and connection to and with the women by delivering hygiene bags filled with items donated by caring individuals from the freeworld.
Chosen Vessel Ministries, and many other ministries, organizations, and individuals support TDOC’s annual Christmas drive, organized by Chaplain Alma Harris and her staff, to provide a substantial bag of hygiene items to every woman incarcerated at WTRC, approximately 1,200 women. I feel safe saying not too many women in the freeworld would get excited about receiving a bottle of powder-scented Suave deodorant as a Christmas gift. But many of the women at WTRC do! Simple things mean so much!
Chosen Vessel Ministries is eternally grateful for the generosity of all who made it possible for us to deliver 112 hygiene bags to WTRC on Saturday, December 12. Our pledged goal was 100 bags but we were able to meet and exceed our goal because of the generosity of many from our Synod, including Pastor Mica Koli and Resurrection Mission in Decatur, Georgia.
We are also grateful for the volunteers that helped sort and organize784 items for the 112 bags. Packed in 2-gallon sized Ziploc bags, each bag contained a bottle of shampoo, conditioner, lotion, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, and a pack of toothbrushes. The volunteers then filled moving boxes for delivery on the 12th- all the while wearing face coverings and following safe distancing.
No matter the time of year, we give thanks and are grateful for the partnership we have with TDOC administration in Nashville and staff at WTRC. We give thanks and are grateful for a chance to demonstrate to the women, in a simple way, that there are many in the freeworld that remember and care for them. For Chosen Vessel Ministries, giving a bag of hygiene items is one way to assure the women that many freeworld strangers care and they do matter – to us, and to the God of all HOPE!
Remember the prisoner.