Faith Behind Bars

Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things…
— Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption

One time, my friend Alice took part in a prison ministry. An introvert by nature, this wasn’t just a little out of her comfort zone, this was light years away from it. She toured eight prisons in five days. She was surrounded by razor wire fencing, armed guards, and men with face, neck, and arm tattoos—rapists, murderers, and pedophiles. These were the worst of the worst.

The men were brought into chapel just as you would expect: like cattle, pointed and prodded to take their seats. For the next two hours, they heard God’s Word, and Alice learned something about herself. Going in, she knew she was better than those criminals. They were not her equal. She was good, they were not. Then she witnessed something she hadn’t expected. Big, tough, hardened men worshiped God unlike any Alice had ever seen back home in her Tennessee church. The ‘worthless’ began to feel worthy. Hope began to color an otherwise grey existence. The men filed out of chapel, and Alice was overcome with shame. She regretted not talking to any of them.

She could have. She didn’t.

The next visits would be different. Alice experienced similar scenes, broken men redeemed, restored, and reconciled. Only this time she bolted to the back the room after it was over so she could shake every hand, smile and talk to each man. She asked about their families, she told them they matter. She had never felt more alive. These men were no more broken than her. They just screwed up their lives and hurt people. Still, they’re desperate for love – desperate for hope.

Their crimes, horrendous. Their punishment, justified. Their redemption, entirely within reach. There is a greater story at work here. A story that says we’re all guilty of something and the discarded can be reclaimed.