Her name is Mickey and she found me on Tuesday of last week, timid and uncertain.
If you look up the definition of “mousy” in the dictionary, the entry should have her picture next to it. She is petite and naive looking. Though 26 years old, she looks 18 or 19.
But spend some time talking to her, and you learn of her two kids being raised by family, a history of drug use, and a cross-country crime spree that involved hot checks and a stolen car.
All of that will clue you in that she is not as naive as she appears, though you also get the feeling she wishes she could be.
She has spent the last eight years having to be tough, which led her to drugs, the wrong guys, and a stretch in prison. She knows how to be tough – but tough has never worked out for her, at least in the long term.
This is why she was uncertain when we met. She is now on probation and staying at the local rescue mission in Raleigh, N.C., and needs a job or else she loses her spot at the mission.
She also expressed that she is pretty sure that a safe bed to sleep in every night is what is keeping her sober and giving her the freedom to make good choices.
In other words, to her, getting a job is a matter of life and death.
The day before we met she was overjoyed when she heard she had a job doing construction cleanup, which started the next week.
But then she was crestfallen when she learned she needed a new pair of steel-toed shoes before she could start.
Forty dollars was standing between her and a job that literally was lifesaving.
The tough version of Mickey would have known how to solve this problem, but that wasn’t who she was anymore – or at least, it wasn’t who she wanted it to be.
So she went to the rescue mission, local clothing closets, and called everyone in the phone book who might be able to help.
She cried and pleaded, but no one had any shoes. And she felt that they didn’t seem to care that she had no shoes.
When she was in prison, she had heard about Love Wins, a ministry of presence and pastoral care for the homeless and at-risk population of Raleigh, where I serve as pastor and director.
The other inmates had told her it was a place that you would be accepted. That was safe. Where you could just be.
This is why she was there last Tuesday, begging me to buy her a pair of shoes. And it is why she cried when I told her that of course we could, and was ecstatic when one of our volunteers took her to Wal-Mart to try on shoes and pick the pair she wanted.
You could say that wasn’t necessary – that we could have just handed her a Wal-Mart gift card and sent her on her way.
You could say that it wasn’t the best use of time for a volunteer to take her to the store, and that she would have been fine with a used pair someone had donated.
But any of those arguments would be missing the point. Because the point is not only to get her back to work, but also to figure out how to be in relationship with her.
And if I am the one who decides what her shoes look like, where she gets them, or that she gets the cheapest pair, that is a lot more efficient. It is many things, but it isn’t relationship. Ultimately, what this other approach is, is power.
Our organization decided a long time ago that we can love people or we can have power over people. But to date, we haven’t figured out how to do both. So, we choose love.
And sometimes, love looks like shopping for shoes so that a young woman recently released from prison can return to work and get back on her feet – literally and figuratively.
Hugh Hollowell is the pastor and director of Love Wins Ministries in Raleigh, N.C. A version of this article first appeared on the Love Wins blog and is used with permission. You can follow Hollowell on Twitter: @hughlh.
Editor’s note: EthicsDaily.com’s newest documentary, “Through the Door,” shares stories highlighting the faith community’s engagement with prisons – including inmates and officers, being in prison and out, both charity and justice. To learn more, click here. To order “Through the Door,” click here.