KFAX had a segment on prison ministry this week on Lifeline with Craig Roberts. Guest host PJ Olivor and I talked about our broadcast experiences inside facilities like San Quentin and supermax Oak Park Heights and being locked away with men convicted of murder and more. What’s the motivation and what happens when you meet men and women–and youth–behind bars? What have I learned about justice and grace from interviewing the real people behind the story of the movie Dead Man Walking? Why reach out to children of inmates as we did recently at the Returning Hearts weekend at Angola? Listen to the August 30 podcast here.
I have been on a parallel track with post-abortion ministry and prison ministry over the last ten years. Knowing firsthand that abortion is a crime of the heart brings the dual nature of my calling into focus. Jesus was talking to me in the Sermon on the Mount when he indicated that our crimes of the heart make us just as guilty as crimes that break the law. And Jesus said in Matthew 25, “What you do to the least of my brothers, you also do to me.”
It matters to him how we treat those who are not in a position to do anything for us—the fatherless and orphans and the voiceless unborn, and even those who may be considered a drag on society like the hungry, naked, the sick, and those in prison.
Abortion and crime both create a victim. Having chosen abortion, I know the heavy burden of the weight of that transgression. And having received the mercy of Jesus Christ, I know my obligation, which has now become my joy. I live with this question, “Since I have been redeemed—bought back from condemnation for my crimes of the heart—what does that mean about how I should treat those who have been convicted of crimes which break the law?”
I believe I owe it to them to tell them how I have gained a new life now through embracing the love of Jesus Christ, and to encourage them to do the same.
Prison ministry is about life change. According to the experts I’ve spoken with and interviewed—everyone from wardens to mental health professionals to corrections commissioners and policy experts—a small percentage of inmates lack enough conscience to respond to correction, and even other inmates need to be protected from them. But it’s a very small percentage. Our culture wrongly fears everyone with any prison record is a predator without any hope of change. In either case, whether we judge a person capable of change or not, Our Lord has said we should go to them. We should have empathy even if they do not.
The brilliance of Jesus’ plan is that when we invest ourselves in people whom society would rather forget, the entire picture changes. His love extends all the way from the innocent unborn to those who are guilty and in prison. And his loves makes all things new.
The great majority (94%) of offenders will be released back into society. Prison ministry is an investment in healthy communities. If you think you can’t afford to make that investment, consider what we are already paying for warehousing crime. The price tag in taxes is 60 billion dollars a year. We do this because of the concern for safety, which is a valid one. People are in prison for a reason, and I don’t discount the victim and community needs for justice to be served. But I also know that unless we take Jesus heart to go and help people learn how to live a new life now, nothing will change.
Here’s what outsourcing this task to government has done: the Federal Bureau of Justice found in 2008 that close to 60% will be rearrested and reconvicted within 3 yrs of release, and 52% will be returned to prison. The Bureau of Justice reported that in 2009 the US prison population topped 2 million—1% of the population. Including the 5 million on probation or parole, 3% of people in the US, one out of every 30 adults is either in prison or on parole. World Prison Brief estimates close to 6% of all incarcerated people are not citizens–total deportation would make only a tiny dent. 93% are male. According to the Department of Juvenile Justice, there are also 90,000 juvenile offenders behind bars—most of these rates are higher than anywhere in the developed world.
And all those prisoners can only mean one thing—an ever-increasing number of victims too. Prison growth isn’t really making life in the US safer.
The parallel with abortion comes to light here. Abortion is not an acceptable solution to a problem pregnancy because it always harms a child, just as prison can never fully solve the problem of protecting the weak from the strong. Hearts and minds must be changed as women and men decide to live a life of love rather than victimizing others to make their way in life. If you’re in Georgia, join us at HeartBound and learn firsthand what God can do!
Repentant women and men suffer after making
their children a victim of abortion, just as penitent men and women
suffer after making others a victim of their crimes. This godly sorrow
is the beginning of our hope. The scandalous love and grace of Jesus
Christ forgives and redeems us all. Through him we find a better chance
to rebuild our lives than our broken system can ever provide.
Sharing the love of Jesus Christ in prison is part of my new life now after abortion. God’s justice is served as I share his love with those he loves and give of myself to those he died to save. Prison ministry gives people the choice to simply continue as convicts or whether to become contributors.
When you accept Jesus’ invitation to visit him in prison (Matthew 25:36), you will learn, as I have that the church behind bars is filled with those who are authentically living the transformed life.