Prison minister turns toward counseling children
Lynn Michie is a human dynamo working for a better life for those around her.
Along with local resident Monroe Gilmour, she was an advocate for community projects while still a student at Davidson College. A former prison chaplain and now mother of two, an ordained Presbyterian minister and the wife of an Episcopalian priest, she is a college student once again.
Michie, 51, resigned as chaplain at the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women during Thanksgiving 2015 after 11 years there. In January 2016, she enrolled in a two-year master of education program in guidance and counseling at Western Carolina University. She hopes to become a school counselor.
“The main reason I’m returning to school,” she said, “is that I heard from so many of the women at the prison that their lives began to slip away from them when they were 11, 12 or 13 years old, and they wondered what would have happened if they had had one adult who really invested in them. I want to be one of those life-giving adults for kids.”
To help defray educational expenses, Michie has established a new business, “Bless This Mess” which is an eco-friendly home cleaning service. (Contact her at 273-7984 or e-mail her a firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“When I told my family that I was thinking about cleaning houses as a way of making money while I’m in school,” she said, “my daughter looked skeptical and said, ‘I don’t know, mom. You’re not the best housekeeper.’”
Michie grew up in Charlotte in the late 1960s and ’70s. Her whole life during those early years was racially integrated, including school, neighborhood and church. Her parents intentionally exposed her to an integrated way of life because they valued equality and diversity.
“Lynn grew up in an integrated neighborhood, attended a diverse, multicultural church, learned to swim at a black YMCA and was a member of an integrated swimming pool,” her father, George Michie, said.
George and his wife Mary Carol Michie now reside at Givens Highland Farms in Black Mountain and are still active in helping the women at the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women.
“I am most proud of my daughter’s tenacious defense of what she believes in without being boisterous or obnoxious, whether it pertains to the public school system, the environment or the injustices of the prison system,” her father said.
Michie said her passion and advocacy for public education comes from her belief that teachers love their jobs and are committed to providing children with an excellent education, despite the profound obstacles they face.
“That kind of grit and determination is something I want to lift up and support,” Michie said. “I want my kids to be in an environment where they get to know kids from lots of different backgrounds, where they are learning the beauty as well as the challenges of diversity, racially, economically and culturally. Our traditional public schools offer these lessons daily.”
Michie attended Yale Divinity School before she committed to becoming an ordained Presbyterian minister. She spent two years in a clinical pastoral education program at Carolina Medical Center in Charlotte.
“I was out of my league intellectually, but I got a great theological education inside and outside the classroom (at Yale),” she said. “True ministry is all about relationships, and Carolina Medical Center taught me how to engage authentically and claim my voice.”
Michie served as associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Asheville for almost seven years.
“I will forever be grateful that I had the opportunity to be on staff there at that particular time with Pete Peery as pastor and a remarkable ministry staff,” Michie said. “When our ideas really began to flow, Pete would always say, ‘Now we’re cookin’ with gas.’”
After her two children were born and she needed only a part-time ministry, Michie decided to accept a position as a chaplain at the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women.
“I felt comfortable with the diverse population of inmates from all walks of life, different education levels, different races and ethnicities and various religious traditions,” Michie said.
Mary Leonard White, a Black Mountain resident, was on the board of Ministry of Hope Chaplaincy Program at the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women when Michie was hired as a chaplain.
“Lynn brought a level of understanding and not just tolerance that I had not seen before,” White said. “She respected everyone’s spirituality and honored all of them. She always left judgment to God.”
Chaplain Carol Sasser Dalton, who worked closely with Michie at the prison, described her as an amazing colleague. Michie “recognized a common thread” that tied the childhood abuse, neglect and abandonment many inmates experienced to the drugs and alcohol they used to numb themselves, Dalton said.
“As she was preparing them for her leave-taking, I heard numerous women encourage her to go out and make a difference in the lives of the children,” Dalton said. “It is a cycle, but we believe we can interrupt it.”