I was recently in prison.
It was quite an experience speaking to so many young inmates.
I’d estimate a hundred 17-24s single-filed into a very secure recreation hall.
Take away the orange jumpsuits and the guards and I could almost imagine I was in some all-guys, Ivy-league, college class. Albeit with a few more tattoos.
But I wasn’t. I was in prison.
They divided my audience into three sections, with plenty of weaponed guards scattered between the groupings.
On my left, those who had committed murder or aggravated assault. Straight away, those whose crime were violent and sexual. To the right, those given the designator “mentally and emotionally fragile.”
One hundred young men.
So I spoke. I gazed out at guys who had felt much pain and caused much pain and I wondered if my little words could make a dent or scratch the surface or touch a heart.
One hour later, I shut my mouth, and they respectfully clapped.
The show was over.
It was back to their units.
I moved toward the exit and gave them one last smile–I didn’t figure they received many of those–and then the unplanned happened.
They didn’t leave.
Oh, twenty or so did, but eighty or so didn’t. Eighty or so broke contain and circled me and I could see panic on the guards’ faces. Because we weren’t divided. Murderers mixed with molesters mixed with the mentally ill. And they all mixed with me, whose mind has known rage and lust and panic. We were all together: black and white and Hispanic, eighty in orange and one in denim, and I tell you I felt more kinship with them than I’ve felt in church for some time.
They blocked the door and started to speak; they needed me to hear their promises. Promises that if they ever got out, they wanted to live different. They wanted to be different. They broke like repentant sons to a father, and I don’t know how to judge sincerity, but more than a few wept, and they weren’t from the fragile side of the aisle.
I didn’t want to leave prison, and they didn’t want me too, either. I had found family wasting in the dark.
Now, I get it. Those eighty faces meant eighty victims, victims who lost lives and innocence. And that meant an even bigger circle of people in pain: Goodness knows these sons had done horrible things.
But these young ones couldn’t run and they couldn’t go back and they couldn’t hide the dark side of their humanity: it was imprinted on them in orange. And to a man, they wanted to shake my hand, the hand of a man pretty darn good at running and retracing and hiding.
They were thirsty, thirsty for a “father” to tell them their lives still held hope.
Thirst. Fathers. Hope. Three powerful themes filled the prison.
I stood, surrounded, realizing the same three themes fill the pages of Aquifer, my August 6 release.
A dystopian set in what is now Australia, the citizenry needs no prisons; emotionless humans commit few crimes. Yet deep inside one young man, passion still burns. Luca lives thirsty for love, desperate for his Father’s approval, clinging to hope, even as the survival of a world without water rests on his shoulders. Luca’s heart isn’t so different than those of the young men in orange who stood before me.
Neither is his hunger for freedom.
I was thinking about how the world you’ll explore in Aquifer is a lot like the world of the jail, when two guards finally herded my lost family out the door. Like Luca, I promised I’d return to their land of shadow, and was led out a different way into a world of clear blue sky.
As we walked, my escort mentioned that almost to a man, the prisoners I met had no dad in their life.
Until for one hour, they were adopted.
Yes, I weep for those they’ve harmed.
And yes, I weep for my wayward sons.
Like them, I’d love for you to visit. I’m just a click away at www.jonathanfriesen.com. I can’t wait to meet you in the pages of Aquifer, a book guaranteed to quench your thirst.