Compassion For Those In Prisons

Granted, only those who have been incarcerated can truly relate to what a prison experience can be like to endure. However, this does not mean that we cannot or should not have compassion for those who are to spend a part or all of their lives imprisoned.

Persons who commit violent crimes and post a threat to society must be confined in order to protect the community from such behaviors and to dissuade others from doing the same. As long as there is crime, there will be the need for prisons.

At the same time, there are many persons in prison who do not pose any genuine threat to society at large and perhaps alternative forms of punishment and correction would better serve both those persons and society.

This is especially true of many first-time offenders whose crime did not involve violence towards another person, but whose actions never the less cannot be tolerated by a civilized society whose justice demands that one’s debt to society be paid.

The only difference between many incarcerated persons and those who are walking the streets is the fact that the ones in prison got caught and/or their lack of means to secure the services of a competent attorney. “Liberty and justice for all” is not always the case in the real world, but until a better system can be established we must maintain the one we have.

Rehabilitation is a worthwhile endeavor for the minority of those who actually benefit. Statistically, rehabilitation has proven to be a failure. This failure, I believe, is because many of those who are eventually incarcerated are no strangers to the criminal justice system by the time that they are actually sent to prison. In the process, they have built an impregnable wall of arrogance around themselves whose shell is only hardened as a result of the dehumanizing of the prison experience. For some, they become so institutionalized that the threat of being sent back to prison is of little concern and in some cases even desired.

The two things that every productive human being needs that prisons by nature can not provide is freedom and the assurance of self worth. The need to survive instills in those confined a hypersensitivity to perceived threats and promotes the development of an aggressive and violent mindset. Feelings of embarrassment, rejection, humiliation, betrayal, and isolation from those with whom the incarcerated ones had a pre-prison relationship make re-adjustment to the outside world even more complex.

The issue of temporal punishment is a matter between the offender and the State. The issue of moral forgiveness for the crime committed is between the offender and the Lord. The issue of forgiveness is also a matter between the offender, the victim, and the Lord. When a victim will not forgive, his status changes from that of a victim of a crime, to a violator of God’s law.

Having had a law-enforcement career of thirty years, I can understand why a victim, by human viewpoint, cannot or will not forgive the one(s) who hurt them or their family members. Often times neither the defendant nor victim looked anything like they did on the day of the crime as they do when they are presented in court on the day of the trial.

Some would argue that it is totally unnatural to forgive others in light of what their victims or their families have suffered. But as Christians, we are not called to do what is natural, but what is supernatural under the power of God. If we are to be His disciples, no one or no thing (including the sin of refusing to forgive others) can come between the Lord and us. We had no choice in being the victim, but we do have a choice if we are or not to be a violator of God’s law by refusing to forgive others. We must consider the consequences of carrying a grudge against another person if God has forgiven him.

There is nothing wrong in seeking justice, but we must be able to discern the difference between justice and vengeance. The administration of temporal justice has been delegated to Man (Rom. 13), but vengeance is the exclusive domain of God (Rom.12: 19).

God is not through with someone because he has committed a serious crime and neither should we. Prior to becoming the leader of the Hebrews, Moses committed murder. David had a man killed to cover up an affair he had and the resulting pregnancy of the man’s wife. The repentant man on the cross was a thief. Paul persecuted the members of the early Church earning him the self-proclaimed and infamous distinction of being the “worst” (1Tim. 1: 15 NIV) sinner of them all. Never the less, God still had a plan and use for each of these men, as He does for each one of us.

Consider the incarcerations of Joseph, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul and Silas. Consider what God accomplished through each of them while they were in prison and/or awaiting execution.

Many of God’s servants, in order to ultimately fulfill God’s plan for their lives, were denied the justice that the very system that put them in prisons was to provide (Acts 16:37).

Some were totally innocent of the alleged crimes as in the case of Joseph, falsely accused of an attempted rape (Gen. 39: 17, 18). Some were there as political prisoners or as a result of conspiracies.

In an attempt to secure the death penalty for the Lord Jesus Christ by His enemies, the conviction on the charge of blasphemy was amended to one of treason against the State. Pilate perceived His innocence, but gave in to public pressure anyways and handed the Lord Jesus Christ over to be crucified in order to unwittingly fulfill God’s plan.

Not all prisons are made of bricks, steel bars, razor ribbons or ankle chains. Any situation, circumstance, or relationship that restricts or denies one his/her personal freedom can be a prison from which one desires to be freed. A prison can be religion, a personal relationship, a job, a health issue, an economic issue, a guilty conscience, an emotional issue, a bad habit or substance abuse.

A prison can be anything that takes away our freedom and places us in bondage to it. At the same time, authority and the need to submit to it is a necessary element if any relationship or organization is going to function. Those who willingly defy authority must be equally willing to bear the consequences.

In a prison environment, the submission to authority is forced upon the individual and there is no perceivable alternative but to comply.

God, the ultimate Authority, does not force Himself on others and neither should those who have been placed in a position of authority that He has delegated.

Depending on what God wants to accomplish, physical freedom or separation from a prison environment may or may not be the will of God in any one given situation.

It may be His will that you are to remain there until His purpose is fulfilled. If it is His will that you are to remain, then you can be free in your soul (John 8: 32) and have the power to endure it (Phil.4: 13).

God can turn the curse into a blessing. If it is His will that you are to be released, it will happen according to His ways & timing.

Ministering to others in literal or figurative prisons is the calling of everyone who claims to be a Christian.

“…I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you…. sick or in prison, and did not help you?” “He will reply, “ I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me (Matthew 25: 43-45 NIV).”

by Pastor Douglas Laird

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