In 1999, I was working at a correctional facility in a remote place in New Mexico. One of the men incarcerated there found out I was LDS and asked if I could arrange for an LDS gospel class at the prison much like several other religious groups were providing. I worked with the facility chaplain and arrangements were made for a time and classroom for weekly gospel sessions. As an employee, I already had the required training to have contact with inmates, so I was a logical choice to teach these classes.
There had been a major riot at this prison just a few months before our meetings began. A correctional officer had been killed and a handful of inmates had been identified as the instigators and taken to other facilities. The prison was under severe restrictions as a result and everyone, inmates and staff, were at a heightened state of tension, wondering if there were not still more of the riot leaders inside our prison. Hand-crafted weapons were regularly confiscated, more than usual, indicating that inmates were arming themselves however they could, either to start another riot or to attempt to protect themselves from it.
Under these conditions, it is understandable that the inmates attending LDS gospel classes were distracted. The man that they shared a cell with or the man next to them in Gospel Principles class may very well use our classroom as an opportunity to start another riot. It was nearly impossible to help these men feel the Spirit with such fear and distrust. Lessons on the Word of Wisdom or celestial glory didn't seem to address the immediate needs of these men. I decided that the best I could do was to offer a good benediction to our efforts.
With all eyes somewhat closed, I asked Heavenly Father to bless our prison with peace and calm. I prayed that the inmates and correctional officers would be inspired to foster this peace and calm so that fear and anger would cease. These sentiments became a regular feature of our prayers in the weeks and months that followed. It was noticed that inmates and correctional officers were becoming less apt to lash out at each other. Over time, it was seen that the prison was more settled and fewer infractions of prison rules were happening, resulting in the eventual lifting of many of the restrictions put in place following the riot.
Some of the LDS inmates spoke later about how skeptical they were early on that prayers for peace and calm would help them. Many of the men felt a great distance from God and that the prayers of prisoners would not be answered. We learned and could bear witness that our appeals to God, from a dark circumstance and dark place, were heard and answered. It was a testimony to us all that Heavenly Father helps his children (even incarcerated ones) that turn to him!
As each of us teach the gospel in our individual classes and settings, we will come upon brothers and sisters who are lost to the joys of the gospel and cannot see how such things can make their lives better. One of our missions as gospel teachers is to help recover the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son from Luke's account. I encourage you to identify these "lost" souls, discover what they need most from the Gospel, and help them discover how the Savior can provide for those needs. If a handful of men in a prison can find solace from their troubles through the Gospel, the "lost" souls can do the same with the help of their gospel teacher!
God bless you all in your inspired efforts!