25 Years of rebuilding lives
I’ve written about Bud’s Warehouse before. It’s a Christian ministry that helps people coming out of prison, addiction and homelessness get their feet back under them with entry level employment along with a generous dose of the Gospel. Largely self-supporting through the resale of gently used, donated construction material, we have a large retail store at Mississippi and I-225.
A couple of weeks ago, in the teeth of that raging blizzard, we celebrated our 25th anniversary. But despite the weather, we had a huge turnout for three very tasty food truck offerings. Along with a heaping side of compelling testimonies from people who’ve successfully come through the program and emerged with a radically new perspective on life and its possibilities.
With the weather and the three lines of people patiently waiting for their food just outside the front door, my wife and I were a bit late sitting down with our meals at a table in a large space that had been cleared toward the back of the store. To my left was a guy that I immediately recognized as someone I knew but, of course, couldn’t immediately recall his name. However, not long after shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, it came to me: Bob.
He then introduced me to his son, Stephen, to his left. Stephen has a face you won’t quickly forget: it’s heavily tattooed. But I certainly didn’t recognize it; probably because I’d never seen it before. But I’d heard plenty about the man behind the ‘tats’.
Years before, when I’d been campaigning door to door for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives, I’d rung Bob’s doorbell. Bob answered and invited me in for an always welcome glass of water on one of those hot summer days pounding the pavement. He invited his wife, Dorcas, to join us, which she readily did. (Dorcas is a biblical name from Acts 9:36-42 meaning “gazelle”; I’ve always loved the name and the even more lovely story.)
As the three of us sat around the kitchen table, Bob and Dorcas told me Stephen’s story. He’d grown up in suburban Denver and, in part, because Bob was a devoted Boy Scout leader, Stephen had even earned the Eagle badge, the highest rank in Scouting. After school, he joined the Navy.
Off the rails
But somewhere along the way, Stephen’s life went badly off the rails. Brandishing a squirt gun, he committed a series of robberies-a pricey drug habit, no doubt, played a part. The squirt gun, quite rightly in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of his terrified victims, made no difference. Stephen got caught up in Colorado’s “three strikes and your out” law and was sentenced to life in prison. But Bob and Dorcas never gave up on him.
While I was in the Legislature, of course, I did a number of things. One was sending out an email newsletter to interested constituents. Another was holding periodic town hall meetings for constituents. Bob and Dorcas got on my email list. And learned of a town hall where I invited Ari Zavaras, former Governor Ritter’s head of the Department of Corrections, to speak. Bob and Dorcas saw my email, came to the town hall, met Director Zavaras and spent quite a while talking to him about Stephen.
Back on track
That seemingly insignificant step became a small part in a painful and years long journey that eventually led to Stephen sitting to my left on that snowy evening. And even standing up in front of that large crowd and telling us all the story of how Bud’s had provided him with his first entry level job when he got out of prison. And, building on the computer programming skills he had learned as a model prisoner while behind bars, he had used the job at Bud’s as a stepping stone to land a job at company that does sophisticated computer programming. Where, to boot, Stephen is thriving. Despite the tattoos.
The sick get well
As the evening wound down, I had the opportunity to speak with Stephen for a few moments. Among other things, I asked him, “Where are you going to church?” “I’m not,” he answered, “but I am a spiritual person.”
Now, obviously, this young man has faced and overcome obstacles that I can scarcely imagine. Just surviving years in prison in one piece is no mean feat. But surviving outside the “the big house” isn’t without its challenges either.
Saint Macarius, an ancient church father put it this way, “The Church is not a courtroom where your vices and virtues are scrutinized before a judge who decides your fate. The Church, established by Christ Himself, is a spiritual hospital where the sick come to get well.”
Sure, the church too often looks and acts like its too good for the average guy. But those folks have it exactly backwards. Rightly understood, the church is a hospital for hurting people like Stephen. And we’re all hurting in our separate own ways.