The Power of Performance Art

James H. Pence doing a chalk drawingI’ve always known that chalk art is a powerful means of communication, but until recently, I didn’t realize just how powerful it is.

I did a chalk drawing in a North Texas prison one Sunday night, and the instant my wife and I arrived at the chapel, I sensed that something was up. Normally we’re accompanied by one correctional officer from the time we get inside the gate until the time we leave.

This time there were four officers, two of whom were exceptionally large.

I also noticed that the correctional officers were all business. Usually we chat and exchange pleasantries. Sunday evening they appeared tense.

Most of the time, the inmates are allowed to sit wherever they want. This time the officers did not allow them to choose their own chairs. If one went somewhere that he was not supposed to go, the officers made him get up and move to the seat they wanted him to be in.

Then just before the chapel service started, all four officers positioned themselves in the room and gave the inmates a stern pre-chapel lecture. Without going into all the details let’s just say they told them that they were there to worship and should behave.

Since every prison conducts things a bit differently—and I hadn’t been in this unit in quite a while—I didn’t find what was going on particularly unusual. I’ve heard the “behave” lecture before, so I didn’t find that unnerving. Even if I had, I wouldn’t let it bother me.  We were there for a purpose. Laurel and I had come to sing, do a chalk drawing, and share Christ. Once we were introduced, the service went on and we had a great time of worship.

At the end of the service, the correctional officers gathered again and asked me to pack up as quickly as I could. They kept the inmates in their seats as we quickly dismantled my easel, waved at the inmates one more time, and went on our way. Then another unusual thing happened.

In Texas prisons, volunteers are not supposed to go anywhere on the prison grounds unaccompanied. The chaplain wasn’t there that night, so I expected one of the officers to escort us as we went back to the main control picket. Instead, he walked with us to the door of the education building and then told us we could go back to the main building on our own.

That was unusual.

Laurel and I walked by ourselves to the main building, wondering what was going on.

The mystery was solved when we entered the sallyport at the main control picket. As we handed our visitor tags back to the lady officer in the control room, she said “I’m glad y’all were here tonight.”

“Why?” we asked.

“There was some chatter earlier today,” she said. “Some of the inmates were planning on causing some trouble in church. But they all like you. They’d never cause trouble in one of your services.”

“I guess God had us here for a reason,” I said. “He knew we needed to be here tonight.”

I’ve always known that chalk art is a powerful means of communication. But that night I learned just how powerful it is. I don’t know what kind of trouble the inmates had planned. It may have been a fight between gangs. Or maybe they were planning on harassing the chapel speaker. I’ll never know. All I know is that Laurel told me that every single inmate was watching me draw. Nobody was being disrespectful or causing problems.

There were some people in chapel that night who came for the wrong reason, but in doing so they placed themselves under the hearing of the Word of God.

I pray that God will use what they saw and bring fruit in their lives.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X