Prison becomes a better place

A few days ago, I participated on a panel discussing the death penalty in Missouri. I spoke about the recent execution and the transformation I had personally observed in the man who was put to death.

During the question and answer period, one of the attendees asked, “These men who are transformed during their time in prison, what do they do with this newly found conversion? Particularly those who aren’t going to be released? How can they reach out to others?”

I responded, “They minister to each other.”

Prison life is within a community, a community of men struggling to discover who they are and where they are heading. It isn’t a normal community by any measure. Freedom has been taken away; there are countless rules; interaction with the opposite sex is non-existent; the ability to express anger or affection is suppressed.

But a life of meaning can be found once an offender realizes that prison is his life, that he isn’t enduring  a “life interrupted.” Offenders eventually find it to be  unhealthy to dwell upon life-on-the-streets, either before or after incarceration. Today is really all anyone has, and that notion is particularly acute for those in prison.

After a few years, an offender’s focus often turns toward anything that takes him out of his current environment. He seeks a different kind of freedom, freedom of the spirit, a place to dwell that is more welcoming and more comforting than the bleakness and monotony of prison life.

The spiritual life offers that, and the path to conversion begins. Chapel services are attended; meditation classes are taken; prayer time becomes part of the daily routine; bible studies are pursued, and a community of believers begins to become more and more apparent.

Ministry to others becomes part of their prison existence. They begin to notice those  who are hurting, need encouragement, lose hope to the point of near-despair, are grieving over the loss of loved ones through death or through broken relationships.

Transformation does take place. A new creation begins to exist within individual prison cells. Prison becomes a better place.

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