Sarah Thompson, columnist
Enid News and Eagle
They call her “Smiley.” Her warm heart and bright smile light up a room. She always has a hug or a word of encouragement to give. She is a mother, best friend and just one of thousands of women incarcerated in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is currently ranked No. 1 in the world in the incarceration of women. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2010), the state incarcerates 134 women per 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of 69 per 100,000. This rate has risen over the past decade due to tougher sentencing laws. Additionally, children of these women are at risk for ending up in prison themselves.
Abandoned by her mother at just 6 months old, Smiley was placed in foster care until she went to live with her father at the age of 4. Later, she began using drugs and alcohol to deal with the pain she felt inside. After several arrests, she found herself in jail facing prison time.
While in the county jail, a woman would visit each week to minister to the women. That woman refused to give up on Smiley. Because of one woman’s faithfulness, Smiley accepted Christ on Aug. 15, 2011. Now completing the community corrections-level portion of her sentence, Smiley talked about her new life as a Christian.
“Life is beautiful,” she said. “God has answered so many of my prayers. When I was in Eddie Warrior, I would work all day and then go to church. I got deeper into God out there. I prayed to come home and God has answered my prayer.”
When she is going through a hard time, she now relies on her best friend, her Bible and her faith.
“I spend time in my room praying a lot,” she said.
When asked what advice she would give to other women, Smiley said, “It’s a rough road. There are going to be ups and downs, but with God by your side, you can climb the highest mountain.”
Women like Smiley are often left alone and forgotten by society. This leaves them with little support and resources when they return to the community. Without support, these women often return to things like drugs or alcohol to cope.
The Bible clearly calls us to reach out to these women. They are not throwaways meant to be locked up and forgotten. They are loved and valued by an almighty God.
Ask your church how you can be a part of the prison ministry. There are many ways you can help. By giving of your time and resources, you will become the hands and feet of Jesus.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least these my brothers, you did it to me.’” — Matthew 25:35-46
Follow Sarah Thompson, who is a social worker in the Enid area, on Facebook: www.facebook.com/godsuncommongrace or email her: firstname.lastname@example.org