by Rev. Kim Crecca
Convener for Prison Ministries
Camp Genesis 2022 at Chapel Rock concluded on June 11th, but the faces of those kids remain indelibly planted in my heart as they have been since I started being part of the Camp Genesis staff in 2019. Some of you may be familiar with our summer camp for children who have or have had one or more parents in prison. Several churches in our diocese participate in writing cards to these kids each month so we can stay in touch and encourage them throughout the year. Other churches help us gather much-needed (and appreciated!) supplies for the backpacks that each camper receives when they first arrive at Camp Genesis. Many of you have heard me talk about this camp in the past and have provided donations so that we never have to turn a camper away due to a lack of funds. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart and I want to share with you some of the experiences from this most recent camp.
On our first night, we gathered under the stars at the Rock Chapel and while crickets sang hymns of praise, we worshiped and prayed with these young kids (ages 8-13). As we opened the Prayers of the People to receive their special prayers and petitions, I heard this one little voice whisper almost in my ear…”Please, can you pray for my mom? She’s in prison and I hope she can come home soon.” Other voices chimed in, asking for prayers for their dads and moms. It brings tears to my eyes even now as I tell you about it.
These kids often live in situations where their mom or dad in prison is never mentioned. Many families prefer not to speak about their incarcerated loved ones, some even make up stories to cover for their absence. The stigma of incarceration weighs heavy on these kids, isolating them from mainstream kids of privilege not only because their parent is in prison but also because many of their families are struggling financially due to the loss of income. These kids often wrestle with feelings of being at fault somehow for their parent’s incarceration and, of course, they grieve. They miss their mom and dad so much.
As we got close to the end of camp, one child from Camp Genesis sought me out. It was after the night we had prayer stations for the whole camp…one of my favorite parts of summer camp. The kids are invited to wander from table to table to offer prayers, and struggles, express their feelings in chalk paintings on the sidewalk or pray one on one with a camp Chaplain. As I was praying with a troubled teen from among the regular church camp, out of the corner of my eye I saw this young 8-year-old Camp Genesis camper crumple to the ground and begin sobbing at one of the prayer station tables. Another of our campers rushed over and began comforting the child. Although it was already past lights out when I finished praying with the teen, my heart immediately went into prayer for the child who had been crying.
The next morning this child pulled me aside and asked if they could come and talk with me later that day and of course I agreed. As another staff sat quietly in prayer inside the building, the child and I sat out on the patio and the words spilled out across the table as the tears began to fall. When they had gone to the station where they would put a bead on a place on the map where they wanted to offer special prayers, they placed their bead on Phoenix and that’s when the flashback hit them…hard. “I remembered it was my 5th birthday. My mom and I had just gotten ice cream and were driving to a nearby bowling alley because I wanted to play their games for my birthday. We weren’t too far away from home when the siren and lights came on behind us. My mom pulled over and the police wanted her to get out of the car. See, she had been arrested before, and I don’t want to say what for, but the policeman began to search the car. He had me sit on the curb while the other policeman talked to my mom. Then they handcuffed her and took her away. I didn’t get to say goodbye or give her a hug or anything. They just took her. A neighbor saw me sitting there crying and asked if I could come home with her and they let me go with her. That was four years ago and that’s the last time I’ve seen my mom. She’s in for seven more years and I miss her so much. Can you please pray that she will get out soon?”
We often forget the collateral consequences of incarceration in our rush to be “tough on crime.” Families are shattered, kids are thrown into the “system,” and poverty weighs heavily on most of them making it difficult to even visit their loved ones in prison. It’s often stated by agencies that study the impacts of incarceration that families are imprisoned with their loved one; or at least, that’s how it feels.
Our Camp Genesis offers a safe place for kids who share these struggles to come together and learn how to support each other, to realize that they aren’t alone. They meet other people who have gone through what they are experiencing and survived. Yes, we pray with these kids and try our best to help them realize how much God loves them and that they are worthy of that love; but it’s more than that. We try to give them hope, we listen, and we are present with them in their grief and in their joy. Camp Genesis tries to provide a place of new beginnings for them. A place where they can begin to heal.
If you would like to learn more about how you can support Camp Genesis or even be a part of next year’s Camp (we need artists, crafters, musicians, photographers, cabin counselors, and chaplains)ug, please contact me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you.