When I speak in prison I use personal stories to illustrate whatever the theme is and sometimes I think how crazy they must sound. I mean, what possible interest could there be for young men in their twenties, many of whom struggle to read, and for whom life is a struggle, in the stories of a 61-year-old middle class well-educated woman?
But if I tried to talk about my drug habit or my heavy drinking binges they'd soon suss me out as a fraud and I'd lose all credibility. So instead I tell them how, when I was in junior school, I was humiliated after falling over in the skipping race and having to finish it on my own. And how I was going to Bristol but I missed it and ended up in Bath. (Good grief, these stories sound even more pathetic when written down!)
But they listen and pay attention. One young lad must have been so engrossed in my story that when I said that I still struggled to think of myself as lovable or worthwhile, he piped up spontaneously, 'You are, Miss.' The boys around him started to laugh and there was a look of absolute horror on his face as he realised he'd said it out loud, and he quickly reverted to 'hard man not listening to this old biddy' mode.
And, remember I said there was a visitor who was very encouraging to me? At the end he asked me, 'Were you nervous?'
I thought he was joking so I said, 'No, of course not.'
But then he said, 'Only I noticed that you gave a - here imagine a deep 'Phew, I'm glad that's over' exhalation of breath - when you'd finished and we were starting on the last song.'
Although I was anxious beforehand I suppose that once I'd started I wasn't nervous. I'd prepared as much as I could; I just had to get on with it.
Just before the last song that we sang I played a track from a Jake Bugg cd. It's called Note to Self and that's what I wanted to encourage the men to do: write a note to themselves to remind them that they're special enough for Jesus to die for. And this blog post is my version of a note to myself. So that next time I feel a failure I can look back at this and be reminded that I'm special and worth dying for.