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I have been able to speak at Utah State Prison 4 times now, (twice on the men’s side, twice on the women’s), and I am forever changed by it. I have been to some really incredible and beautiful places, meeting literally hundreds of great people a day. Tons of different stories and backgrounds and challenges and successes—all that have had some sort of impact on me, and yet when I went to the prison to speak March of 2013 it has still been my absolute favorite place I have ever been. I’ll share a little bit of what I wrote in my personal journal in 2013 after my visit to the men’s side:
“I can’t express what I felt…the spirit that I felt was beyond what I had felt before—it was incredibly powerful. I didn’t want to leave and lose how I felt. I was surprised by their example. They all came single-filed into the gym, all wearing their matching white inmate uniforms, every single one of them holding a Book of Mormon and a journal on their own will. Their humble eyes staring at me was completely captivating. … After I spoke I was able to stay as they separated into groups and my eyes filled with tears as I heard their goals and desires. Hearing their passion to get out just so they can baptize their son, or get sealed to their family. To hear investigators quote D&C more beautifully than I had ever heard before…
… I was truly among incredible, incredible people and was so humbled to meet them. When it was time to leave a lot of them thanked me and shook my hand. You know how sometimes you can look at someone and you just knowthey’re truly a great person, you can just feel it? I saw that and I felt that every single eye I looked into. It moved me. It moved me to literal tears. It moved me to change. To become better. Because of their example and greatness that I saw in them. ..
When I went back to the men’s side this past month it was a little different. It was for a drug addiction program graduation, (a challenge I am not familiar with myself). Not only was I told that I couldn’t speak on not just my religion, but I couldn’t even mention God at all. I spoke on change.
The road to becoming better most times seems to get longer and longer with more rocks and bumps and holes and detours than we could have ever imagined. But what seems to be roadblocks and detours along the way are actually paths we don’t recognize to lead us to places we never would have thought of, leading us to do things you never would have dreamed of. All of which better than what we initially had in mind. And through those paths I have taken to be better and become more, I truly feel like I’ve found me—who I was meant to be all along. With blessings that are profoundly better than what I even knew existed and was available for myself. I wouldn’t have a single thing I have now if it weren’t for God and His ways.
Although my second time back to the prison was not a religious service in any degree, and most definitely not an LDS service, a one-time choir of inmates just for this occasion got up to sing and I was completely shocked at their choice of song. “A Childs Prayer.” The most intimating men you could imagine, these big, tall, buff men—all ages from 20’s up to some in maybe their 70’s, some with missing most of their teeth, most with tattoos on their face and head— started singing, “Heavenly Father, are you really there?”
I sat on their makeshift stage and I lost it. The spirit overwhelmed me so physically— more than I have ever felt before in my entire life. Because God was there. Because regardless of where they were and whatever they had done, He was aware of them. They were not alone. And I felt so powerfully that they never have been.
Neither are we.
The power of change is very real. And although there are many people in prison who do not make the decision to change to be better, we all have that decision. We all have the power to change. People change every day. I am not who I was 6 years ago. The group I spoke to at the prison, they are not who they used to be. They were full of greatness. I could feel it. I am changed and better because of it. We can never let who we used to be stop us you from who we can become
Maybe one day I wont be known as the “Tattooed Mormon,” but maybe the “fun mormon,” or “really nice Mormon,” or “Mormon Convert.” Or hopefully one day just the Mormon with a strong testimony, who loves the Lord, trying to help people. To help people to know that the power and love of Christ and Heavenly Father is so powerful that we can overcome absolutely every trial, every hardship—that their love for us can literally allow us to overcome the world! Every passing minute is a chance to turn it all around, a fresh start, because every passing minute Christ is there for us. To help people know and feel that happiness does exist. Comfort and guidance is always available. That what we are a part of is real! This is so real, and it is so great. This is the greatest thing to ever be a part of. Forget not why you are here. Forget not whose hands you’re in.