Being incarcerated since eighteen years old I have often gone for years without hearing from anyone or having any contact with the outside world. I learned to find the love I needed there in the place that I was. Among my brothers and in the church.
For over thirty years I have lived without knowing the true magnitude of the love that was waiting for me out here, and it wasn’t until I arrived that I realized it. Everyone gathered around me and greeted me, hugs covered me, I found kisses on my cheeks and in my heart. It was then that I realized how loved I was. I was overwhelmed by it. It filled me up in places I had no idea were empty. Pressures that I had been living under my whole life were given release and I was consumed utterly. For being there for me and carrying me through so much, my friends, my family and loved ones, for the ministers and teachers, volunteers and even many of the staff I left behind in prison, I do what I do now...
My soul expands and diminishes
As a breath held deeply under
Once dead to dreams desires or wishes
Drowning from the pain of my own hunger
Until what is — enters
My neatly arranged and ordered days
The cocoon of my routine bursts in splinters
A disaster of me - love made
What wondrous feelings engulf me
This confirmation of Love
To often I’ve forgotten or failed to see
How truly loved I was
How big an expression will allow me to
effectively express how blessed
and moved by your love
I am knowing that you love me….
I’m deflated and full to capacity
By my family, my friends
and by you...
© Carl E. Shuck
I was catching a ride home from the office where I work at MetLife Insurance and saw a huge crowd of people going into Wal-Mart. My first reaction was, “Wow, look at all the people!” but then I began to think about it, aligning what I was seeing with the season and time of year I am in. It’s Christmas. They are going to buy their loved ones and friends gifts. It is the time of year where we have an excuse to reach out to others in gratitude and appreciation, hoping to somehow show them how much they are loved. It lifted my heart in a special way because I sincerely love this time of year and I thought how beautiful it would be if we could keep the same love and gratitude in our hearts year round.
The purpose of Christmas recognizes the wonder of giving, without string attached, from a spirit of total selflessness, and as an expression of genuine care for others. It is the perfect reflection of Jesus, who gave everything for us. When I think of helping a stranger who has nothing, or digging into my pocket for my family, just being a “decent” person, I think of Him who for love of us all gave Himself up out of heaven and became man, took off His mantle of sovereignty and put on the cloak of humility. I look at that much the same way that I was looking at all the people going in to shop tonight. “Wow, look at what He did?”
Being the type of person that I am, I couldn’t leave it there. Why, because my idea was, how does that affect me? I haven’t gone shopping yet, not in the sense of going to a store to buy a material gift. Instead I am shopping for the souls of those around me who need to know that they are loved and appreciated. How long had I gone without hearing how special I am, how much I am loved and cared for. I remember how much it meant to me when the Jordan Gospel Ministry came into the prison. They were gifts to my soul. Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you did, they will forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” I felt loved and it didn’t require a present in the traditional sense. It required someone coming into my circumstance and reaching out to me, taking time to listen to my hurt and dreams, and just being there for me. Now, if you know Mama Jordan, then you know that she is going to tell you, “Mama Loves You, and you are SPECIAL.” It doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from, or what you’ve done, listen to Mama. I want to give others that same present not only on this Christmas but all year round.
This Christmas let us remember that it is so much more than a party, an excuse, for us who call on the name of Christ, it is a lifestyle, one that remains in our heart all year long. It is the gift that keeps on giving and as the one song states so well, "Don't save it all for Christmas day."
God bless you and Merry Christmas!
I have just recently been released from prison after serving thirty two years. For well over twenty of those years the Jordan Gospel Ministry has been a part of my life and the impact it has had is not easy to express in words. They became…family.
After being arrested, tried and convicted, sent off to prison and indoctrinated into the environment of prison – both by the inmates and staff – I had felt, more than anything else, the loss of my family. Though I could call and write, the connection was broken for me. When I needed a place of comfort and peace, there was, as anyone behind the walls knows, nowhere to go and no one to go to. There is an old saying, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” That is especially true of family. I missed my mama, I missed my daddy, my sisters and cousins, my nephews and nieces, especially when Christmas rolled around…
I remember the first time I had ever done the 12 Days of Christmas, (Mama Jordan style), and believe me, it was a joy. I couldn’t talk the next day because I was hoarse from screaming, “And a partridge in a pear tree!” There is a spirit that moves in our hearts when we all come together in one accord. It touches that place in our heart which hungers for community, for family.
Mama Jordan’s great compassion and care for us has always been the same kind of no nonsense love that I had missed from home. I learned, slowly but surely, that I could find refuge from the same old monotonous routine of my everyday life. Even though I was helpless to change the circumstance of my incarceration, I did have the choice to join in, for the small hour or two that I was there and I did. With my whole heart…
I want to encourage everyone, whether you are in blues or not, when you enter the C-Day spirit, don’t hold back. Open your heart and let the kind of love, a Mama’s love, make a difference for you this Christmas. Without fail you will hear, “Mama Loves you. YOU are special and you are somebody, cause God don’t make no junk!”
Every cookie has been donated by those in the community who supports you and believes in you. I know for a fact that many nights I felt alone. I struggled so hard to find a balance between the reputation I thought I had to uphold (that I don’t need nobody) and the craving in my heart to be accepted and loved. Discovering that there was an entire network of people who loved me was… transforming. The work that Jordan Gospel Ministries does reaches further than just the prison walls. Remember that when next you think or say that you don’t have anyone.
I am now part of that community. That’s right… I wasn’t abandoned when I stepped through those gates. In fact, Mama’s love, (MaryAnn Jordan,) that of Melise Jordan, her daughter, as well as everyone else involved in every part of this ministry have been instrumental to me and I thank GOD that I have them all in my life.
With every cookie that goes into that bag, there is a prayer, and a hope…
Get into it, dig into it, and chew on that!
Carl E. Shuck was sentenced to prison when he was in his teens. He served almost 32 years and was released in July of 2016. He writes from his perspective of being a former inmate, a Christian and learning a whole new world that has changed while he was behind bars.