One day last April, all programs were canceled, and no one seemed to know why.
Rumors circulated. My roommate, who worked in the chapel, told me in confidence that special guests were coming to visit the Christian congregation here at the state prison in Lancaster, California.
After a short visit to C Yard, Justin and Hailey Bieber, Pastor Judah Smith from Hillsong Church, his wife and their entourage made a triumphant entrance into A Yard. Justin, who was recently born again, reportedly wanted to witness Christians in prison firsthand and be inspired by their transformation through their testimonies.
I wasn’t part of the Christian gathering, but according to fellow resident Lorenzo Flores who was there, the 12 to 15 men, who were chosen to testify, sat in a circle with them outside in the prison yard. After a brief introduction, each shared their spiritual growth stories and how believing in the Lord Jesus Christ helped them in their daily lives while being incarcerated.
Lorenzo said tears flowed and Justin appeared deeply moved. He was very attentive and genuine as he listened to their solemn declarations. Because it was so windy, Justin accepted their invitation to come inside the building and continue the discussion. That was when I first saw the entourage.
The guests had on hats and wore masks. I initially couldn’t tell who they were. Even though my roommate had mentioned Justin’s name as a possible visitor, it was hard to make out anyone’s faces. As the men socially distanced themselves at tables, everyone removed their masks. Sure enough, it was Justin Bieber.
Judah Smith shared gospel readings and encouraged everyone to keep the faith. Then he preached the word of God to the group. The men listened intently.
Afterwards the guys decided to sing a song for Justin and Judah in the dayroom. They chose, “I Came to Praise His Name.” Both were moved by the kind gesture and perfect harmony.
Justin wanted to reciprocate. He sang four songs. To the best of my recollection they were: “Holy,” “Hold On,” “Intentions,” and “Lonely.” These spiritual songs had a huge impact on us, especially the Christian community. His final song in particular, “Lonely,” moved many to tears. He reflected on his personal life.
At the mini-concert, Justin and Hailey saw me bouncing a dog on my lap in time to his music. I’ve been a member of the “Paws for Life” dog training prison program for the past four years. The dog I had at the time was Tilly, who was nearly blind and bumped into all kinds of objects.
Afterwards, they came to my cell. We talked for a minute with our masks on.
“What’s her name and how old is she?” Hailey asked. I told her that she was 11 months old. They also asked me how long I’d been training dogs and other related questions.
Justin liked the three crucifixes I had hanging above the head of my bed — one metal, another plastic, and a third thread-weaved into a cross. I thanked Justin for singing before they excused themselves, explaining that “they were making the rounds.”
After Justin left, I thought to myself, “What a humble and respectful young man.”
I certainly didn’t expect him to be so compassionate and caring toward us convicted felons. They could have easily left quickly after his performance. Justin and Hailey made it a point to visit every one of the 100 cells to wish everyone well.
They spent a total of two hours here.
To be totally honest, I wasn’t a Justin Bieber fan and couldn’t name even one of his songs. I’m more of a Jim Morrison enthusiast.
But he left quite an impression on me. I’ve heard so many negative things about him in the news, but this kind gesture sure changed my opinion of him.
To this day, I can still picture Justin and Hailey at my door.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.