What Will It Take to Start Thinking About Prison Issues?


Most of us probably don't think much about prisons or prisoners unless we see a group of prisoners working by the side of the road, Powell writes.

The sound of clanging jail or prison doors is jarring for me. I am slightly claustrophobic, and the rare occasions when I have gone behind bars were challenging.

I was there to do a handbell program with the choir I was directing. Even though I knew that at the end of an hour or so I would be able to retrace my steps, I was chilled by the sound of those clanging doors and the click of the locks.

In addition, my husband taught in a prison program for Mercer University some years ago. His experiences affected him profoundly, and I shared them in an interesting way.

My background includes an English major in college, where I was my major professor's grader for spelling and grammar. During Bill's teaching days, I was his grader in a similar way before he graded the papers for content.

One of the courses he taught in prison was an ethics course for which he and I had developed a casebook.

It was especially interesting to read the papers his prison class turned in for that and other classes. Our perspectives about prisoners were tested.

So EthicsDaily's new documentary, "Through the Door," resonates with me in a particular way.

Full disclosure: my husband and I support EthicsDaily with our prayers and annual gifts, and I served on their board for several years.

I have seen and shared all of their well-done previous documentaries on racism and immigration, among others, and believe that this effort is excellent as well.

I watched the short version first and later the longer one. The broad themes are drawn in a way that is informative and challenging.

They are articulated by women and men who are either currently involved in various aspects of prison work or have been earlier.

Those themes are anchored in our responsibility as believers in Jesus Christ to minister as he instructed us so clearly in Matthew 25.

As compelling as the central issues are, the underlying symbolism that is used in the documentary caught my attention as well.

Since the people interviewed were from several states, a silhouette of the state was used underneath their names each time so I always knew their locations.

In a segment that focused on a woman leaving prison, a group of birds was shown flying over the gate, just before the words about a sitting duck were uttered; that made me smile!

Most of us probably don't think much about prisons or prisoners unless we see a group of prisoners working by the side of the road.

Far from being involved in prison or post-prison ministry, we simply ignore the issue unless it touches us personally in one way or another.

However, the prison topic is one that is beginning to receive political attention that we can only pray doesn't get lost in the bitter partisanship that seems to characterize so many things these days.

And the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in recent days has brought substance abuse to the forefront of what, unfortunately, is the short attention span of the media.

Examining all of the aspects of prisons, prisoners and those who are trying to re-enter civilian life is quite a task, but doing it from a Christian point of view is even more so.

In addition to the Baptist Center for Ethics, other believers are also addressing the issue.

Tony Cartledge, in his blog for Baptists Today, talks about the transformative ministry of chaplaincy work in North Carolina. Sojourners also published a recent article on our "broken justice system."

Regardless of where we are on the political spectrum or religious landscape, God's call to us from Micah 6:8 still rings true. God has "already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don't take yourself too seriously - take God seriously."

And that applies to folks on both sides of that clanging door.

I highly recommend the "Through the Door" documentary for individuals, small groups and churches. It will encourage all of us to examine how or what we can do in the name of Christ to make a difference.

Sara Powell is a freelance writer, former board member of the Baptist Center for Ethics and former moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia. She and her husband, Bill, live in Hartwell, Ga. Visit her website at LiftYourHeart.com.

Editor's note: "Through the Door" - EthicsDaily.com's newly released documentary on faith and prisons - explores the initiatives of churches and faith-based organizations in Indiana, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Interviewees speak to the issues of prescription drug abuse, addiction, mental health, the role of religious volunteers and chaplains, and the often-overlooked stresses of prison officials.

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Tags: Prison, Prison Ministry, Sara Powell, Through the Door


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