I Guess it’s not all Bad…

by Tom Gibson, IL Saints Softball Coach

Let’s face it, producing an article that pokes fun at prison ministry while trying to live through the Medieval Plague of 2020 is a really tough task. I mean, do I write another passive aggressive article about how the Northeastern guys drive, or yet another article about our bus with yet another secretly-coded message desperately pleading for anyone to come rescue me with their fleet of new reliable buses?

This year has been tough as our season was postponed, postponed again, postponed some more, and then eventually cancelled. We all miss sharing the Gospel in prison. We all miss the games and the competitive fellowship and comradery that we have among our teammates and the inmates. We miss talking about the stories that we hear from the men that we see and how some of them chose Jesus in their darkest hour. We miss the long bus rides and meals after the games. But here are some of the things that I haven’t missed in the slightest!

I HAVE NOT MISSED, Waking Up at 2:40 am

It is physically impossible to be in bed before 11 p.m. the night before a Saints prison visit. There is always a kid’s activity on a Friday night that will run late. There is always one part of your uniform that didn’t make it into the washing machine yet. The printer will run out of ink as you are printing your Gospel message the next day, resulting in a trip to Walmart. And, of course, there is always that elusive right-handed batting glove that is somewhere between your garage and diamond #2 at the local park. Of course, you are playing at Mayberry State Prison which is on the other side of the state and 4 hours off of the highway. Of course, they have requested that you arrive at 7 am. This will require meeting in the middle of the night with several other zombies who also left a batting glove at diamond #2 earlier in the week!

I HAVE NOT MISSED, Gas Station Food

Naturally, there isn’t a restaurant nearby Smallville State Prison so, of course, we will dine at the local Shell Gas Station. No, it’s not the nice one near the interstate with the Subway or Arby’s attached. It is the one in Middle-of-Nowhere, IL that has the four rolling hot dogs and the out of order fountain soda machine. There is always the gas station pizza option… but everyone is afraid to try that. There may be some local stuff like Farmer Jenkins’ Beef Jerky, or Junior’s Boiled Peanuts but this meal will most likely consist of Jack Links and a bag of Hostess frosted donuts.

I HAVE NOT MISSED, Prison Food

I take back all of the bad stuff I said about the gas station pizza…

I HAVE NOT MISSED, Getting Blown Out by a Prison All-Star Team

We have a pretty good record overall when we play against the inmate teams but sometimes you play a team of destiny. They got the notice about your August visit back in February and they have been doing a Rocky IV training montage-type practice every day since that Saints poster went up in the prison gym. They will recruit the guy who played AAA baseball and some guys who played in the NCAA tournament a while back as soon as they hear about this prison visit. This game is usually ugly. Your outfielders will either quit on the spot or go hide in the crowd. Your team will either leave the field humbled or ready to retire and join a basket weaving ministry.

Don’t get me wrong, I would be more than happy to get up early and eat some bad gas station food before playing against the prison all-stars tomorrow if asked – but those aren’t at the top of my list of things I missed the most about not going to prison in 2020!

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We must regretfully announce that the SPM softball season 2020 is officially cancelled. After previously announcing the cancellation of many crusades - and the softball seasons for IL, NJ, and PA – this message serves to inform everyone that all softball events still pending are now also cancelled.

We have been in touch with the DOC Volunteer Coordinators on a weekly basis since early July, and more recently have received counsel from a high-ranking DOC official that nothing is likely to change until at least October, leading us to this painful decision.

Thank you all for your patience, as well as your passion. We do not know what the future holds, except to say that we anticipate being “back in business” in 2021 and every prison we talked to is anxiously awaiting the day we can return. There may be new protocols in place by then, but there is no virus strong enough to stop the Gospel message from reaching those who need to hear it!