By Gary Lloyd
TRUSSVILLE — The first thing Matt Pitt wanted to do when he was released from Shelby County Jail last month was go back in.
The Basement founder and youth evangelist, who served eight months for a probation revocation on an impersonating a police officer charge, wanted everyone to come inside, to see what was happening in a place not accustomed to positivity.
“It was so alive and revival was really happening that I wanted everybody in the lobby, if I could have had one dream at this moment, I would have had everybody to come see what God was doing in this block,” Pitt said.
Pitt went into the jail to begin serving time last August. About two months in, he began a “prayer call” each night at 8:30 with one, maybe two inmates. Those couple became four. Four became eight. Eight turned into 12, then 12 became 32. Prayer calls were then held each morning, after lunch and at night.
“It was so cool,” Pitt said.
Pitt said he received many postcards and words of encouragement during his once-a-day, 15-minute phone calls.
“I couldn’t thank people enough,” Pitt said.
He said he knows there are also critics. He remembers the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” Then, he shakes his head.
“That’s a lie,” he said. “Words hurt.”
There were nights he cried in jail, he said. He felt misunderstood, and was upset that his family were having to go through the ordeal. That was the toughest part, he said.
In jail, inmates are promised an orange outfit, three meals per day and a Bible.
“The word of God became everything to me,” Pitt said. “I had to eat, sleep and breathe God’s word because inside there, you’re scared. You’re going through a lot of emotions.”
Inmates heard bad news from family at home, from lawyers about their cases. One of Pitt’s cellmates was looking at a 20-year sentence and was never happy. Pitt said he found his place by praying for others, for those with addictions, for those who needed their marriages restored, for those who just needed to know God would forgive them.
“That became my church, just being able to pray for people,” he said. “I felt so blessed to just be in there just doing time.”
Some inmates were suicidal. Some inmates would use the phone to call people on the outside, but no one would answer. Pitt told inmates there was a family on the outside who would listen to them. His parents began fielding phone calls from inmates. Pitt called in to The Basement in Trussville.
The prayer calls that were taking place got so big that they couldn’t be done in the lower part of a cell block in Shelby County Jail. One inmate asked if they could move it to “the upper room.” Pitt remembered that from Acts 1.
“When he said that, I thought, ‘No way. This is it,’” he said.
Inmates throughout the jail heard about it, he said. The room got crowded. Inmates listened from the stairwell. Pitt spoke from atop a toilet.
“Everybody was trying to get in,” he said.
It was the same room, Pitt said, where inmates would get into altercations before he was put in jail. Inmates asked each other if that was the same room, he said.
“That was the biggest miracle inside jail,” Pitt said.
Pitt said one inmate considered suicidal was brought to stay with him in his cell, despite there being empty cells. After spending some time with Pitt and at prayer calls, the inmate ended up preaching in one of the blocks. Fighting in the jail declined. Guards and inmates got along, smiled at each other, Pitt said.
“You’re not used to seeing peace between the inmates and the guards, and there became a lot of it,” he said.
Pitt spent time in multiple blocks, something he said he felt like God was doing so he could go through every room in the jail to identify with every kind of inmate. Pitt said he feels bettered by the experience.
“I believe that it will be one of the greatest experiences of my life,” he said. “God uses every kind of thing in my life. He uses trouble, He uses trials. Any time I’ve been knocked down, He uses the pit as my greatest story. He’s always used the craziness of my life to reach so many more people.”
Pitt said being incarcerated has opened his eyes to who to speak to. He hasn’t put together the eight-month experience on paper yet, likening it to a move he hasn’t yet been able to package.
“Now that I’ve been where a lot of people in my generation are, I believe that this will be one of the greatest stories I could tell for the rest of my life,” Pitt said.
While in Shelby County Jail, Pitt got an hour outside per day, just a “dog kettle” area where 60 or more inmates could look up and see the sky, feel the heat or cold. Every day, Pitt said, he wondered what it would be like in the grass, seeing trees. Now that he’s out, he sometimes steps outside, just to sit in the grass.
“It gets no better than this,” he said. “Everything has changed. It’s just such a blessing to even be able to walk outside now.”
He said he’ll look around and think, “I’m never leaving this place. I want to sit and look at this forever.” He said he notices things he didn’t before. He’s trying to see everything, every place, in Alabama.
“Sometimes God will put you in the dark, in order for you to see the light,” Pitt said. “My passion is now at a level it’s never been. My commitment, my dedication to reaching lives, oh, it’s on now. God used it to spark a fire in my heart to reach this generation. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Contact Gary Lloyd at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.