We have a prison ministry correspondence course on the 12-steps that we have been administering for years at NSC. Many men and women have taken the opportunity to work the steps as they sit in jail cells serving their sentence. Over the years we have also had opportunities to go into the local prisons and work with inmates with addiction issues. This is another issue that a couple of folks have given me feedback about. Not many, but a few folks have suggested that this is a rather expensive program for us to maintain considering who “we’re dealing with”….
“What do you mean, who are we dealing with?” I ask. These kinds of conversations always catch me off-guard.
“Those people, you know how it is…they may do these studies now, but as soon as they get out they’ll be right back out on the streets doing what they do.”
“You mean looking for a job?”
“No, Teresa, committing crimes.” [Hear the condescending tone for full affect.]
Oh brother. These kinds of conversations are the sort that often get me in trouble. I forget that I am an imitator of God, committed to loving others and being a reconciler. It is much easier for me to let that image slip away as I imagine myself punching the condescending, judgmental prick’s nose. (See, this might be why someone might criticize my pastoral presence.)
But hang with me, because I have never punched anyone in the nose, even when I felt like it. I don’t think I deserve a good conduct medal or anything, but don’t burn me at the stake just yet!
According to the logic of the very few who believe that we should lock folks up and throw away the key, it sounds like what they are saying is that FIRST you change your behavior, and then you get to study the bible, have people visit you and pray with you, etc.
To make matters even more challenging, it isn’t just the critics who would have us give up on our brothers and sisters in the prison system. Some of our beloved inmates have also given up. They do not believe that anyone loves them or cares about their situation. I had an inmate tell me one time that the only reason she thought I came out to the prison was so that I could add her to our “count”, and make our church size look more impressive. I felt so sad listening to her, sensing that this had much more to do with how she felt about herself than it was a knock on me. (We aren’t organized enough to count anything, in case you are wondering.)
I have a theory. Tomorrow we will chat about it.