We huddled together awkwardly as the thick metal door finally clanged shut behind us. A split second later, an identical door began to slide open just in front of our group. We waited until the gap widened enough to pass through, and then the four of us proceeded down the long hallway.

We were now officially inside Marion County’s Jail II.

Some of you may not believe it, but this was my first time seeing the inside of a jail. And as I walked down that long hallway, I did my best to mimic the casual approach of my companions, hoping to conceal the underlying tension I felt. I wasn’t fearful of any dangers, mind you, or worried about my safety, but my senses were clearly heightened as I tried to absorb these altogether foreign surroundings. Everywhere I turned, I saw metal, concrete and thick plexiglass.

County Jail II is a large, rectangular building and houses around 1,000 inmates at any given time. The non-descript exterior does no justice to the realities on the inside of the building.

We boarded the elevator, accompanied by the jail’s chaplain, who was escorting us to the second-floor chapel for a Sunday afternoon church service. We disembarked and walked towards the chapel at the end of the hallway.

Along the way, we passed expansive “pods” on either side of us, each consisting of a large open room crammed full of bunk beds and dozens of men in orange jumpsuits. A few of the inmates stared at us from behind the large, plexiglass windows of the pod doors. I kept my cool, but opted against making any real eye contact. A strange feeling filled the air, and it was one I had never experienced.

A Reality on Edge

The very nature of a criminal detention facility generates tension. Like any other creature, we as humans, aren’t intended to live in close confinement. Something about it is unnatural. Something about it breeds anxiety, restlessness and angst.

Not only are people locked up for unlawful actions of their own, but they’re locked up with other people behind bars for similar activities. It can easily be a recipe for disaster, and the instinctive tenets of jungle law are often the unwritten rules of the land.

Downtown Indianapolis can be seen a few blocks away from the visitor’s entrance. Many of the inmates’ windows face the same direction.

To make that tension worse, freedom is mere inches away for inmates at Jail II, located here in Indianapolis, Indiana. They can look at a bustling downtown Indy through the tiny, barred windows that line the four-story building, but that’s as close as they come to the outside air until a judge or county prosecutor says otherwise.

Jail II is the primary hub for any number of people in the correctional system. They may simply be serving out a short sentence handed down for petty crimes committed within the county’s jurisdiction.  They may have an ongoing case in the city’s court system. Or they may be awaiting transfer to one of the larger state penitentiaries. At any given time, about 1,000 inmates are housed there.

Breaking the Chains

For George “Midget” Whirley and Jim Harmon, that’s 1,000 souls in desperate need of Hope. And that’s the reason I’m here.

These two guys are members of Unchained Ministries, a Christian motorcycle club that started a prison outreach program about 30 years ago. They call the prison ministry the Unchained Gang, referring not only to the freedom found in Christ but also to the contrast of the chain gangs often associated with prisons of yesteryear.

Both Midget and Jim have their own stories of desperation and redemption, and God is at the center of it all. They’re now compelled to visit the jails and prisons of Indiana, shining Light into dark places, speaking to folks defined by hopelessness and providing the same message of grace they now cherish.

George “Midget” Whirley, vice president of The Unchained Gang, leans against his work truck after an early morning visit. When he isn’t riding his motorcycle or visiting prisons and jails, Midget helps run a tree service based on the south side of Indianapolis.

But they’re not the only ones from Unchained Ministries. The club has six chapters in Indiana (and one in Ireland, go figure), visiting over 40 jails and prisons in the state on a regular basis.

I sit here and ponder folks like this, and a part of me can only hang my head.

The Bible is chock-full of scriptures addressing the issue of prisons and prisoners.  And when all is said and done, our faith must move beyond words and beliefs. It must include actions!

“Faith without works is dead,” as James so bluntly wrote. If we profess Christ, we have no excuse to sit on our laurels.

I love the simple distinction Jesus makes in Matthew 25. There are plenty in the Church who give a whole lot of lip service to God and to their faith. They may even know all the Sunday school answers.

But what separates the lip service from the true service within the Church? Easy…

“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 invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…”

What a privilege I have to follow along with these guys in the coming weeks!! And what a blessing they are to those they visit! They seek no recognition for their efforts, but I’m going to give it to them anyway.

They want all glory going to God…a sign of true service at its finest.

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Next Steps
    • Reflect on the men and women living behind bars. Think about what that reality actually entails. How might you feel if someone came to visit you with handshakes, hugs and words of divine encouragement?
    • Ponder Matthew 25:31-40. Now ponder it again. Where do you stand?
    • Visit the Unchained Ministries website and read up on these folks. Pay particular attention to the Volunteer Opportunities.
    • Add the prison population to your prayer list, as well as those who minister to them.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Stephen Crane is a year-long fellow with World Next Door. He has a bachelor's degree in theology from Calvin College and a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University. He has a passion for overlooked places and people and would snowboard at all times if it were possible!

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Comments

  1. Amy K. Sorrells said... 

    Reply

    November 2nd, 2011 at 8:04 pm  

    Um, wow. What a mind-blowing, knee-buckling, and, well, rather unexpected series! Love it. Can’t wait to read more. Bring it, Stephen!!!

  2. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    November 2nd, 2011 at 9:05 pm  

    OK…this will be mind expanding and heart rending…I can feel it coming. Will be waiting for the next post. Thanks Stephen!

  3. Cat said... 

    Reply

    November 3rd, 2011 at 9:37 am  

    As usual, fabulous!

  4. Steve-O said... 

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    November 3rd, 2011 at 9:56 am  

    Truly humbling thus far…
    There’s something about worshiping God with a bunch of guys in orange jumpsuits. The nature of the congregation demands that the heart of the matter is addressed from the get-go.. So refreshing.

  5. Kathleen said... 

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    November 3rd, 2011 at 11:31 am  

    Love this article as it challenges us to practice the boundless compassion of Christ everywhere!

  6. Marcia said... 

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    November 4th, 2011 at 2:00 am  

    Thank God for these guys who allow God to work through them. They are amazing. Jim is my brother and all of his sisters are so proud of him.

  7. Jim.M said... 

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    November 6th, 2011 at 8:58 pm  

    Love this, its familiar. Can’t wait to read more. Thanks Stephen.

  8. Mark B. said... 

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    November 11th, 2011 at 8:13 pm  

    With experience of being “one of those guys in orange”. I can tell you what things like these visits can mean to a man. Having Christ love brought to you from those on the outside gives you hope and reminds us that even though we might have made a mistake. God will never leave us or stop loving us. Thank you, and The Unchained Gang for keeping the word alive.

  9. joanie leslee said... 

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    November 12th, 2011 at 10:02 am  

    After going to the Girl’s Prison for over 20 yrs. in Indpls. I am still grieving those girls have been moved to Madison. The work is undone. This article reminds me of the high privledge of bringing the message of redemption thru Christ to these dark places, to folks who are often more open than our Sunday morning brothers and sisters. Thank you Steve.

  10. Steve-O said... 

    Reply

    November 12th, 2011 at 11:54 am  

    @MB Thanks for your candid words.. That message of love and hope is one all of us should be taking to heart, and one we all should be sharing with others. The Unchained guys are doing their part, and they inspire me to do more.

  11. Jim and Elizabeth said... 

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    November 12th, 2011 at 4:11 pm  

    Wonderful article to remind us to pray for these persons who need Jesus. Thanks for enlightening us on current prison ministry here in Indy.

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