Every summer, members of Seymour Christian Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, Mich., pack up their bats and gloves to play a double-header softball game against a team of prison inmates at Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia, Mich.
Seymour CRC’s softball team
This fun way of living out Christ’s call to visit those in prison is organized by Bob Woldhuis, a member at Seymour who works as a social worker at the prison.
The Seymour team, made up in part by members of their church’s recreation league team, goes head-to-head for two games with the inmates’ all-star team selected from their intramural league.
“The first year was very intimidating,” said Doug Nykamp, the Seymour pitcher. “The first-baseline had prisoners lined up as spectators, and there were only three security guards.”
Every game is preceded by a prayer, usually offered by a member of the Seymour team. This year, however, the invocation was delivered by one of the prisoners who testified to being a light in the prison.
The games are played by house rules, which aren’t always spelled out before the game. One Seymour batter was called out because the previous batter had not properly stored his bat.
One member of the prison’s team said, “Playing this game means so much to us. It gives us a chance to get out of the daily routine of prison life, if only for a night. . . . It is a little light in such a dark environment.”
Having participated for several years, Nykamp attests that he is now more open and sensitive to people in prison.
Though no one has kept an official tally, the teams are pretty evenly matched, and both play to win. This year, each team won one of the games in the double-header. At the conclusion of the games, one of the inmates even declared that when he is released he plans to visit Seymour Church.