By Corbin Smith
Sometimes, as a society, it is easy for us to forget that prisoners truly are human beings. We often think of inmates as savages, people who deserve to suffer for the crimes they have committed. We think of people like Ted Bundy or Bonnie and Clyde and it fills our hearts and minds with disgust towards these men and women. Not only that, but we are also scared of jails, only thinking about the horrific stories and rumors we hear. We timidly gaze at the walls as we drive by on the freeway, wondering if what the media tells us is true. Never would we choose to go inside!
That’s not how associate teaching professor Dr. Peggy Anderson thinks! For many years, Anderson has worked with, loved and served those who are currently in prison. In fact, in the past Anderson served as the Relief Society President in the Utah state prison, providing both temporal and spiritual support for the prisoners.
Along with her own personal endeavors, Anderson has begun to invite students to participate in a women’s fireside inside the prison as part of their clinical practicum of the public and global health nursing course. However, this experience is much different than the clinical practicums that take you abroad.
On May 19th, Anderson, accompanied by a group of students, went to the Utah State Prison with the goal to serve, bless and teach those inside. The theme of the fireside was “Enjoying a Healthy Lifestyle.” The focus of Anderson and the students was to help the inmates understand the importance of not only physical health, but also emotional and spiritual health. Speaking of their purpose in the prison, 5th semester student Kayla Brantley says, “The prison is supposed to be a correctional facility. Correction needs to take place and they need help to make that correction for themselves, which is what we are there for.”
For that reason, students shared small devotionals with the inmates on a variety of topics. Some of the topics shared by the students included self-worth, dealing with stress, strength in Christ and even the Atonement. Brantley and her husband, Adam, also shared their talents in a unique way through a special musical number, singing “I Know My Redeemer Lives” with the ukulele!
While this fireside was beneficial for the inmates, it also was impactful for the students. Talking about his experience with the inmates, 6th semester student James Reinhardt says, “It was cool to be able to feel the Spirit in the prison and even feel the Spirit with them.” Since the fireside, Reinhardt has begun working shifts in the prison and has decided to do his capstone project there too!
It was an unforgettable experience for all who participated in the fireside. The greatest lesson the students were able to learn was that, even though in prison, each of the women attending the fireside are people who have value and worth. “It’s easy to think about what terrible things they could have done to get into prison, but as soon as you meet and see them you remember God loves them and Jesus sacrificed himself so they could be freed,” says Brantley.