Read stories of those affected by Mercy Street here.
IN MEMORY OF OSCAR DOUGLAS
One week ago, our dear friend Oscar finally succumbed to his fatal heart condition and passed away.
He died a free man - in every way - outside the jail, and knowing that he would spend eternity with Jesus. No one was able to be at his side, from his family or anyone from our team. So we could say he died alone, but I know he was not alone, because Oscar himself had declared many times his love and devotion to Jesus. We can be assured that while no person could be there...Jesus was with him in those last moments and certainly now and forever.
He was a kind and gentle man, to know him, was truly to love him. In all the many months he was part of our groups inside Suffolk County Jail, he always came with a smile on his face, ready to contribute and support those facilitating and those who were attending. I never heard him say an unkind word to anyone. Yet Oscar spent the majority of his adult life behind bars, not because he was a bad person, but because the life he was given had caused him to make bad choices, that along with the very broken system he was in, offered little or no help or support along the way.
For several years, Oscar was part of our lives and our ministry. In the last 9 months, he was outside the jail where members from our team, Brett Quinn (who was most frequently caring for him) and Mike Sudbey, were able to minister to him and assist him as we knew he was terminally ill. We were able to financially help him and his brother and walk with him through his last days.
Yet, Oscar's death at this time in our nation, brings a whole different set of emotions with it.
This past week, we have all been faced once again with abhorrent injustice and the inhumane and senseless death of a man named George Floyd. I would never assume to think that I understand what my brothers and sisters who are Black are feeling in this moment. I know I can't really understand all of the emotion, the anger and frustration that goes along with this.
Over the past 6 plus years, we have ministered and built relationships with nearly 800 men inside the jail. When I looked at the picture of George Floyd, I saw a man who looked like someone I knew, and loved. Though I never met him, I felt that I knew him as a friend, as a man, like so many others we have known, was doing the best he could with the life he had been given. But that life was cut short in a brutal way and an all too familiar story.
This past week has been a rollercoaster of emotions. There has been deep sadness for our dear friend Oscar and for me personally, heartbreak for George Floyd and for countless thousands who have similar stories.
I have been trying to write this newsletter for a week. I have felt like I really have no words to speak what is in my heart, and honestly words mean so little at this point. But I also feel - I, and we as a ministry, cannot be silent.
We are committed to seeing an end to chronic incarceration, to love, care for and stand with those who no one is caring for. Yet, right now in this hour, much more is needed.
I commit as a woman of God, a pastor and leader of a ministry to the incarcerated; that we will do better, do more, we will act and refuse to turn away. I know that I speak on behalf of our board and team in saying, "We will not just be a voice and an advocate, but we will dedicate our work and ministry to standing with and fighting for the those who no one is fighting for."
Proverbs 31: 8-9 says:
Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die.
Open your month and judge righteously and plead the cause of the poor and the needy.
May we, who are called by the name of Jesus Christ, take this verse to heart in a new way today. May we all become not only aligned but fully engaged with the purpose of standing for justice in this day.
With much love and grace to you.
Oscar D. joined our discipleship group inside the jail about three years ago. A sweet man, he always came with a great attitude, willing to contribute, he was helpful and a great addition to our gatherings.
In 2018 one Tuesday night, Oscar wasn't in the group which was unusual. The other inmates informed us he had been taken to hospital. We knew that he had been suffering from some physical challenges, but we had no idea how serious it. We discovered that he was actually suffering with a very serious heart condition, and it seemed it was terminal.
To say there are many obstacles and challenges navigating through the jail system would be the understatement of the century. It seems at times that it is an institution intentionally designed to make it difficult for you to connect with anybody or to communicate clearly with anyone. We were trying for months to get information about where Oscar was, how we could visit him, and how we could support him, and we kept coming up against brick walls.
Thankfully our prayers know no bounds. So we prayed, and prayed and prayed some more.
Just a few months ago, Oscar reached out to us. He had indeed been hospitalized for a long time in the jail but was being released early because it is believed that he only has a few months to live. He wanted to get in touch with us because the time spent with us inside the jail had been life-changing for him. He wanted to thank us for what we deposited in his life and for the time we had given to love and care for him inside.
One way that we are making an impact in the lives of those affected by incarceration is that we are engaged with intentional aftercare for inmates coming out of jail. I'm so thankful that we have amazing men on our team who are loving and caring for Oscar right now. We are also helping to financially assist him, as he doesn't have enough money for adequate housing and food. Boston Dream Center is helping to supplement that for him at this time.
Oscar’s story is sad, even heartbreaking in some ways – but it is also joyful. Oscar is not sad; in fact, he is truly happy. He is not worried about what the future holds for him. He knows he will be with God forever, and there is no fear for him right now. His story is an example for all of us to know that when we fully trust and commit our lives to Christ, there really is nothing to fear. The Apostle Paul said…we can indeed “count it all joy” when we face trials of many kinds in our lives and we don’t live like those who have no hope…because all of our hope is in Christ alone.
In January of 2019, Chris R. joined our Soul Care discipleship group, attending on a regular basis. Often antagonistic, he would usually ask the questions that provoked negativity, intentionally designed it seemed, to stir up the group. We are committed to exhibiting love and respect to each person who attends our groups, and we welcomed him, graciously answered his questions and assured him that we were happy he was with us.
In the fall of last year Brett Quinn, one of our team leaders, gave an opportunity for those in that group to commit their lives to Christ. There were 11 men in the room that night that did just that, and Chris R. was part of that group.
We don’t always know what happens when someone responds to an invitation to follow Jesus Christ, whether it is in one of our groups at the jail or in the local church. Was that a heartfelt response? Did they really mean it? We can’t be sure, and it is not for us to say. That is between each person and God.
But sometimes the evidence of that commitment is very apparent, and the next week when Chris came into our group - he was a completely different man. His posture was humble, his tone, soft spoken and there were no antagonistic questions. Instead, he joined the discussion, and with a gentle quietness he joined what God had been doing all along in that group. It was amazing to see.
About a week later, we were teaching about forgiveness. Chris shared that he has been incarcerated nearly all of his adult life, and about a year ago his son died while he was in jail. He petitioned to be released to attend the funeral service for his son but the family of the person he had harmed (the reason he was incarcerated) blocked him from being allowed to attend. He was angry, hurt and holding all of that inside of him for the past year; small wonder he had behaved as he did.
But that night when we prayed at the end of our gathering to forgive those who had harmed us, Chris also prayed, taking responsibility for what he had done and forgiving the family for not allowing him to attend his son’s funeral. We watched the miracle we have witnessed time and time again in that little room at the jail, as once again, a man was set free, completely and totally free.
In November we were told that Chris was scheduled for early release and this past Friday he was indeed set free. There is now hope for not just his life to be changed, but lives of those around him as well.
Frankie Izzo joined our discipleship group in 2015 and was in our group at the jail for nearly 2 years. Frank’s story is a familiar one. In and out of jail since he was a kid, now in his late 50’s this was the only life he had really known. While attending our groups, Frank committed his life to Christ, was filled with the Holy Spirit and experienced radical transformation. When he came out of the jail in 2017, he joined us at Boston Dream Center, attended our mid-week missional community and started serving with us in the city. Now a year and a half later, Frank is one of our great success stories. He has held a job for over two years for the first time in his life. He has no desire to go back to his old life but instead he is truly free and beginning to live the life that God always intended for him.