Seeking peace with inmates of the county jail

Susan Nelson

Susan Nelson 1979 –

In 2006, a fellow Bruderhof member encouraged Susan, a single woman who works in information technology, to join her in making weekly visits to the women’s section of the county jail. Thirteen years later, Susan has rarely missed a Saturday.

We bring basic art materials and do crafts with the women; often they’ll create something to send home. Many are mothers. We listen. We pray together. Sometimes we sing. We always try to offer encouragement. 

The Women’s Housing Unit is a revolving door, and most of the inmates seem to be suffering from the effects of substance abuse, mental illness, or other health-related problems. We hear a lot of stories. One woman’s mother and daughter are both confined to psychiatric hospitals. One was just diagnosed with cancer. And another was arrested while driving to the hospital to visit her baby, a preemie who was born addicted to drugs. 

The opioid epidemic is ravaging our area. In the last two years, several women who I knew from their time in jail have died. You wonder what their lives meant, and if anyone will even miss them. I struggle with that. Isn’t each one of us created in the image of God? 

Each one of us has the same capacity for evil. These particular women have all made bad decisions, but they’re not just perpetrators. They’re also victims, trapped by socioeconomic circumstances in terrible situations. It’s no surprise that many of them are locked up over and over. I think that’s why Jesus tells us to visit them: as a work of mercy.

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