Carol's Story Wings Logo
by Cynthia Davis

There are two million people in the prisons of this country. One in twenty of us will be incarcerated in our lifetime. Each inmate affects thirty other people. The statistics are staggering. The totals are appalling. The figure is saddening.

It is too easy to forget that behind each of these numbers is a human being. The men and women in prison are husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons. They are wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters. Each one is loved by someone and his or her absence is sorely felt. The wife misses the companionship and support of her husband in raising their baby. The father mourns at not being able to be at his daughter’s wedding. The mother grieves that she cannot hold her children or see them except on brief visits.

These families look for support from friends, agencies or churches. Too often the friends turn away in fear, disgust or embarrassment, the agencies are overloaded and the churches are blind. Another generation grows up angry and desperate, ready to lash out at the system and the cycle continues. But sometimes a small candle is lit. A light shines in the shadows. Hope and love are given unconditionally. This is Carol’s story.

I first came to a WINGS Party when I was eight years old. My stepfather had just been put in prison. I didn’t know how to tell my friends. Mother cried a lot and I tried to help out as much as I could.

"I can’t play today, Mother needs me to clean the house. She’s pregnant and can’t do much work."

Of course someone found out and then everyone looked at me funny. After I beat up Cheryl, no one dared ask me any questions. I missed my friends but I couldn’t explain all the feelings I had. Even Mother didn’t know how angry I was that she married a man who got her pregnant and then got arrested. Now we were in worse shape than when it was just the two of us.

"I wish I could get a job," I told my mother when she came back from the WIC office with our food stamps.

She gave me a tired hug and tried to smile, "We’re doing OK. Pretty soon you’ll have a baby brother or sister to play with."

A few days later, she showed me a paper. It was an invitation to a party at a church nearby. I was surprised that Mother even picked it up.

"Church people are all goody, goody," she often said. "If you can’t dress right and be perfect, they don’t want you."

This afternoon she was excited. "This isn’t a church thing," she insisted. "It’s a party at a church for people like us. There was a poster at the prison today when I visited Dennis."

"What do you mean, like us?" I was suspicious.

"Others, who have family members in prison."

I knew it hurt her to say the words. So more to please her than out of any expectation of fun, we went to the party. The church was right around the corner.

It wasn’t like anything I had ever been to. When we got to the church hall, people weren’t just milling around and pretending to be friendly. Everyone was playing a game. A woman hurried over and welcomed Mother and me. Just then another woman called out,

"If you would rather eat chocolate ice cream, go to this side of the room. Everyone who would rather have vanilla, go to that side."

"Which do you like?" asked the lady who welcomed us.

Right away Mother said "Chocolate."

I nodded.

"Me too," this stranger agreed. "This is the chocolate group." She led us to where half the people were gathering.

"Now, meet two people, introduce yourself and tell them what topping you like on your ice cream," the woman directing the activities called out.

I looked around for a way to escape, but already someone was coming up to me.

"My name is Tom. I like hot fudge and whipped cream," a teenage boy told me. "What are your favorites?"

"Ummm, chocolate and cherries," I managed to reply, thinking about the last time I had such a treat.

"Yeah, cherries are good," he agreed before turning to someone else.

A man shook my hand, "Hi, welcome to WINGS. I’m Sam."

He paused and I realized he was expecting me to answer, "I’m Carol."

"Glad to meet you Carol. What is your favorite topping?"

"Chocolate syrup," this wasn’t so hard, in fact it was almost fun.

We played more mixing up games and I met a lot of people. Nobody ever asked if I was a volunteer or if I was the daughter of an inmate. I couldn’t even tell which of the people were guests like me and which weren’t.

We sang songs and listened to the story of Jesus told like I had never heard it. The pastor didn’t read from a big Bible, he told us just as if he had been with Jesus.

He said "Jesus loves each of us so much that he was willing to die on the cross for us."

I wished the man would go on and tell more stories but the lady in charge, whose name was Ann, stood up.

"Now we have some crafts set up for all the children. You can make Christmas cards and decorate cookies and create a candy necklace."

Ann’s enthusiasm was so contagious that we all trooped after her. Tables were set up in another big room. Some of the other kids rushed forward and started making things.

I hung back shyly until a girl my age asked, "Do you want to make a card with me?"

"OK," I agreed. Soon we were hard at work putting stickers and glitter on our creations. Then we moved on to stringing peppermint candies for a necklace. It was even more fun to eat the candy!

I had just finished spreading icing on my third cookie when we were all called back to the hall for dinnertime.

It was like no other dinner I ever had. There were dozens of tables set up in gathering area. Mother and I sat at a table. A man and two little girls joined us.

"I’m Paul, this is Suzie and Theresa," he introduced himself.

Mother smiled, "Nice to meet you."

Then Sam and his wife came over.

"Can we sit at your table?" he asked. "I don’t think we’re having ice cream with chocolate sauce but I’ll bet you like pizza, don’t you?"

"We do," chorused the little girls and I nodded.

Ann explained that only one person from each table would be the ‘table server’. "The person who has a birthday closest to today will be the server."

"I guess that’s me," laughed Sam’s wife, Mary. "My birthday is today."

She got up and fetched our paper bag of plates and napkins. Then she brought a box of pizza and a big pitcher of lemonade. We all waited until she sat down and took a bite before we started eating. After the pizza we ate homemade cookies.

Sam looked around the table, "Isn’t this fun? It’s almost like all this was prepared by angels. Do any of you know anybody you’d call a human ‘angel’?"

"I think my friend Clara who brought me dinner when I was sick is an angel," replied Mary.

"I have a friend who always has time to drive me to appointments," suggested Paul. "That’s an angel to me."

"There is a teacher at school who always listens to me like she cares," I admitted.

"She sounds like an angel," agreed Sam.

Then Ann announced, "It’s time to clear the table for a special activity."

I wondered what else could happen. Mary brought a bag of supplies to the table.

"Use everything in the bag to dress one person as an angel," Ann directed. "The person at the table, who lives the closest to this church will be the angel."

"That is us I guess," admitted Mother. "We live just down the block. Carol, why don’t you be our angel."

I wanted to refuse, but Mother looked so eager that I shrugged. Sam quickly turned a paper plate into a halo for my head. Paul handed ribbons and paper to Mary and the little girls. Mother offered suggestions and laughed. I was glad to see her laugh even if it was at me.

"One more minute to finish up," warned Ann. "Then we’ll have a parade of all our beautiful angels."

"Quick, add this to the halo," Mother held out a string of shiny silver tinsel.

Somehow it was attached to the halo. For some reason I felt special because I was wearing a halo. I held my head up a little higher than usual.

"All the angels, come up by me," called Ann.

We all trooped to the front of the room while everyone clapped and cheered. I quit being embarrassed and even smiled. It felt nice to be the center of attention in this way.

I’ve been back to many WINGS parties since that first one. At each one, I meet new people and have fun. My favorite time is sitting down with my mother and little sister to eat pizza. We don’t get to do that very often at home, because Mother is working and I am at school or at my job. Sabrina likes to do all the crafts and always comes home with a bag full of her creations.

At the last party, Dennis got to go. He was even the one chosen during the after-dinner game to model our Easter bonnet. Everyone at the table worked to make it really fancy using the balloons, ribbon, paper and other supplies in our paper bag. I hope he had as much fun at his first WINGS party as I did.

The best thing is that neither Ann nor any of the volunteers care that my stepfather is an inmate. For three hours on a Saturday afternoon, I can be just a teenager going to a fun event without anyone looking at me like it is my fault that I don’t have a father at home. If what the pastors all say is true, that Jesus loves us, then the love of the volunteers is a demonstration of that love.

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