When I was a young lad, I heard Southern novelist and poet James Dickey speak. He was asked by an aspiring writer when he knew that he had finished writing a book or poem.
Dickey answered, “I never finish writing anything. I just run out of time.”
Deadlines are indeed a source of salvation for those who are never sure they’ve finished writing, who always want a little more time to reconsider a thought, to tweak a sentence, to change a word.
After months of deliberation – and vacillation – the deadline is upon us to put a title on our documentary on prisons and faith. The editing process is drawing to a close. It’s time to decide.
So, here it is. The title is “Through the Door.”
Why that title?
The title draws from one of the stories we tell, the story of a remarkable faith-based initiative headquartered in Nashville that focuses on women who walk through the prison door and enter the next door of their life.
That ministry, The Next Door, is one of the stories of hope in the documentary.
Like The Next Door, Restorative Justice Ministries Network runs a ministry for those who walk out of the door of the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Many then walk up the hill to the Greyhound Bus Station, where they take buses to Houston or Dallas and then points beyond.
But the documentary is about more than offenders who walk through the prison doors to the outside. It’s also about Christians who walk into prisons to minister to offenders and officials.
One such story takes place at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Ind., where two retired laymen walk through the prison’s multiple doors.
They drive each week some 70 miles one way from Evansville to spend a day with those in the PLUS Unit. They often bring with them donated quilting supplies and return with quilts to be distributed at an oncology clinic and to others in need.
The phrase “through the door” has to do with Christians going into prisons and meeting those coming out of prison.
“Through the door” also has to do with sound. And what sound captures a prison? One is the mechanical clanging of doors.
Working on the documentary, we entered four prisons. Save the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland, once called “the Farm,” we went through multiple doors.
If memory serves, we went through five or six different kinds of doors – gates – to enter the Wabash PLUS Unit. Each had a different sound. Each felt constricting. Each had a watchful eye.
“Through the door” also connects the documentary with the biblical witness.
The account of the imprisonment and release of Peter referenced multiple doors. Sentries guarded the prison door. An angel led Peter through “the iron gate.” Peter knocked on the door to Mary’s house (Acts 12:1-13).
A similar story took place with Paul and Silas, who were also unjustly imprisoned. When “a great earthquake” struck, “all the doors were opened.” Seeing the open prison doors, the jailer considered suicide. But Paul told him that no prisoner had escaped (Acts 16:16-40).
In John 10:9, Jesus said, “I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
The biblical image of “pasture” was that of the good life. Jesus was saying that he is the door through which the good life is obtained.
And it is the good life that Jesus wants for offenders, victims, volunteers and officials. It is through the door that goodwill people of faith move to provide the good life for those inside and outside the prison walls.
I hope your church door will open to using our film to activate people of faith to engage the prison issue.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.