By: Shawn Casselberry
February 11, 2016
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
God has been breaking my heart over our country’s prison system. It just doesn’t seem right that the “land of liberty” has more people locked up than any other nation. So when my friend invited me into a maximum security prison to join a class he teaches on prison literature I readily accepted.
We made our way to the classroom where 11 guys were eager to discuss the latest book they were reading - Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. The men debated whether Bonhoeffer’s scheme to kill Hitler was morally justified. “Is violence ever justified? Could God forgive someone who committed murder? When a soldier kills is it murder? Is the man who conducts the lethal injection a murderer or the Governor who makes the order?”
Later we were talking about harsh sentencing and the lack of mercy within the current system. A man named Ed*, said, “Cain, Moses, and Paul all committed murder but how did God respond? God restored them.”
I was surprised by the depth of conversation among men cast away by society. Larry, who is serving life for a crime he insists he didn’t commit, looked at me and said, “People don’t expect us to be talking like this.” I told Larry I’d like to let people know by sharing their stories.
The guys I spent the morning with were incredibly insightful, genuine, and welcoming. They sang happy birthday for my friend when they found out it was his birthday and they told him they would have gotten him a card if they had known.
I felt a deep sorrow in my heart as I left and even now as I think about it. I want mercy for all these guys. Isn’t 20 years of someone’s life enough to take? I just can’t see how caging someone for the rest of their life could be part of God’s will for anyone.
The great civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” We know Jesus came to set the prisoners free with a grace that restores. My experience in prison has given me a desire to see the prison system radically changed. I feel called to use my voice to amplify the cries of our brothers and sisters behind bars. I hope that we as a church will remember those in prison and advocate for restorative justice so all of us can be free.
Photo By: Kitsadakron Pongha