Why care about the prisoner?
By Anne Rand, Advocate, Long Term Solutions
At one of our very first monthly Prison, Jail and Re-entry ministry connection gatherings this year, a mom whose son was incarcerated at an intake facility at Stateville Correctional Center near Joliet sat across from several of us in the group. She was scared, crying, and in a panic. She had not heard from or spoken to her son for several weeks. She didn’t know to whom she could turn.
Just then, another mom in our group gently walked over and enfolded her in a hug, saying, “Don’t worry. That happened to my son, and you won’t be able to reach him for a few more weeks because he is in a six-week processing phase, but that will change soon.” We prayed with the mom before she left, comforted in the hope that we understood and shared her burden. Her son, a prisoner, was now in our midst, in our hearts, and in our prayers.
“When one person in the family is incarcerated, the whole family is incarcerated.” We say this statement a lot in the Prison and Jail Ministry at Willow, not because it sounds clever, but because it describes the hurt that is woven into the DNA of our group. And with statistics telling us that one in ten Americans are impacted by incarceration, we also come to the sad realization that someone on our block, at work, or in our row at church has been touched, traumatized, or adversely affected by incarceration. We care about the prisoner because the prisoner is in our midst. They are the sons, daughters, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers that drive economic, emotional, marital, familial, and community stability. In their absence, there are countless losses.
And what about the prisoner who is innocent, the prisoner who had an unjust trial, the prisoner who was sentenced unfairly, the prisoner who had an abusive childhood, the prisoner suffering from mental health issues, the prisoner who made a mistake in judgment? Aren’t they in our midst as well? Eighty percent of these individuals will re-enter society again. Isn’t it to everyone’s advantage that they return with hope, a renewed faith, life skills, employment, housing, and a church that welcomes them?
Caring for prisoners also means caring about prison reform, regardless of our political leanings. The reformation of our prison system is also very clearly a humanitarian issue. Conditions in prisons can be subhuman—freezing environments in winter, excessive and oppressive heat in summer, some exploitative staff, prison privatization, and corrupt and unjust criminal justice systems. The line of what is moral and right is constantly crossed. As Christ followers, we are mandated to “continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3). We care about those in prison because as God’s Word says we should be with them—if not physically, then in our minds. Their needs should be our needs.
We care about people in prisons because we serve a God of second chances. If we are to be honest with ourselves, haven’t we broken a law or two and just not been caught? Haven’t we all been afforded a second chance on more than one occasion? The Bible repeatedly tells us we must receive those whom Christ receives and that God shows no partiality (Romans 10:11-13). Throughout Scripture, the example is to forgive, to go the extra mile, and to bear one another’s burdens. For those who choose to look deep inside themselves, there is a simple answer as to why we should care about the prisoner: You’ve been given a second chance. Now go and do the same for others.
Additional opportunities to get involved in our Prison & Jail Ministry
Angel Tree is a special holiday initiative organized by Prison Fellowship that blesses children of the incarcerated by reaching out to them and their families with the love of Christ. Angel Tree mobilizes volunteers to deliver a gift and a personal message of hope to children on behalf of their parent in prison.
This year, Angel Tree is going virtual! You can sponsor a gift package for an individual child, and Prison Fellowship will send sponsored gifts directly to Angel Tree kids. Each gift package costs $22 and includes a gift card, a personal message from the parent, and an opportunity to receive an age-appropriate Bible. Learn more and get your tag here. Use code JR78O.
Prison Pen Pals
The Willow Creek Care Center’s Prison & Jail Pen Pals maintain consistent correspondence with those who are incarcerated, offering encouragement and hope. To get involved, click here.