In Prison With Ann Voskamp

I was standing outside the prison chapel. It was Monday night and I was waiting to start our weekly bible study at the maximum security French Robertson Unit just outside Abilene, TX.

Each week Herb and I, the leaders of the study, wait outside as the men are patted down by the guards. After being searched the men enter the chapel where Herb and I great them with hugs and chit chat. We talk about their week, their work in the garment factory, and the latest news about their families or their legal situation.

I also take the time to work on my very limited Spanish. Hola! ¿Cómo estás? I have an agreement with some of the guys that they teach me a new Spanish word or phrase each week.

Steve, however, loves to talk about books. So having a college professor out at the prison is a real treat. Every week Steve is reading something new and we always take a few minutes to talk about books.

This week Steve surprises me.

"Have you ever heard of Ann Voskamp?" Steve asks.

"Yes," I say, "She's really popular. She's one of my wife's favorite authors."

"Have you read her book One Thousand Gifts?"

"No, but I've heard a lot about it. People say it's awesome. Isn't the book about being thankful for little things? What is the word she uses for this?"

"Eucharisteo." Steve answers. "The book is about living with eucharisteo, thankfulness, even in the midst of difficulty and pain. In the book Ann Voskamp talks about listing one thousand things, little daily blessings, that she is thankful for. It's a great book. I started making my own list. One thousand things that I am thankful for."

Steve and I start talking about what eucharisteo looks like in a maximum security prison. About where an inmate might find "one thousand gifts" in his day to day life. And we talk about how that practice of thankfulness, gratitude and grace has been spiritually transformative for Steve.

And while Steve and I were talking about how Ann Voskamp is changing his life I began to grow uneasy in my heart.

For I had misjudged Ann Voskamp.

Why hadn't I read One Thousand Gifts? Jana loved it and said I would like it. It's been a hugely influential book with many at my church.

But I judged a book by its cover. I had stereotyped the book, concluding that it was primarily for and speaking into the experiences of women.

And yet, here I was standing in a maximum security prison talking to a male inmate about how profoundly he'd been impacted by the writing of Ann Voskamp.

I had jumped to a conclusion. I had misjudged.

A few hours later after the study I arrived back home. Jana greeted me.

"How was the prison?" she asked.

"It was great. Good study. Hey, where is your copy of One Thousand Gifts?"

"Ann Voskamp's book? What do you want it for?"

"I want to read it."

"Oh, it's a great book. You'll love it."

"That's what Steve said."

"Steve at the prison?"

"Yes, Steve at the prison."


"Really. Ann Voskamp is popular out at the prison. And I need to catch up."

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8 thoughts on “In Prison With Ann Voskamp”

  1. I find it so strange whenever I encounter a reminder that the Gospel isn't just about my needs, or isn't even primarily about my needs. I want to blame the quasi-evangelicism in which I spent many of my undergraduate days, where I was taught that the Bible had something to say to me personally, on any given issue I might bring to it, but the blame probably falls much more squarely on unexamined privilege.

  2. I would love to attend a Bible study group that is LED by prisoners. I just finished reading a book by Romell Broom - the guy whose veins collapsed every time they tried to insert the lethal cocktail in 2009 in Ohio. He "survived" execution (but is still on Death Row). You would think that if you try to execute a guy and that execution fails, the guy would be given immunity from further executions, but that is not the case in this country. Anyway, after his execution failed, Romell started wondering why he was still alive, and started reading the Bible. A woman in England took an interest and encouraged him to write. I've always had trouble reading the Bible alone (I get caught in my own ego-interpretations), but somehow Romell is able to make the words come alive and intensely relevant. I find myself wondering what a world it could be if people flocked to the jails for Bible studies, rather than local Churches.

  3. Love this!!! I lived in Abilene for many years and worked at Hendrick Home for Children :) I love Ann's book and have given almost 25 copies away as a gift :) I now live in Rogers, Arkansas. Blessing to you and thank you for loving the broken hearted.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this! It is such a neat story and great reminder to us all.

  5. My husband is the chaplain at our county jail so your post caught my eye. :) I just read a few lines to him. This is kingdom work! I love it. And I LOVE the thought of the men reading AV, sharing gratitude and bathing in grace.

  6. This is great Richard! I love Ann Voskamp and am glad you discovered her too.

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