“But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Romans 8:25
I’m scheduled to go to prison this Sunday. It’s been awhile. As a volunteer minister I’ve had a faithful track record of leading monthly chapel services for years at Pelican Bay State Prison in northern California. I’ve missed maybe two Sundays in four years, but this year, due to a budgeting change I haven’t been able to get inside since spring. The position of full time in house chaplain wasn’t funded and, without an inside connection volunteers aren’t allowed.
Paul tells us to hope for what is unseen. Sometimes the unseen is not so much a part of the future as much as a hidden obstruction. Prison administration is a murky world that is being shifted right under our feet into a prison for profit scheme the magnitude of which would stagger the imagination if revealed. The simple act of visiting prisoners (see Matthew 25:26) is being eroded by private security firms that want to replace face to face visiting with video conferencing. An argument is made that it will cut down on contraband smuggling and the need for staff to monitor visitations, but the real purpose comes clear with the $1/minute fee attached to video conferencing.
The politics of mass incarceration is probably not the topic for this type of blog, but the sheer numbers of folks behind bars, approximately 1% of the USA’s adult population, makes for a juicy target for exploitation and extortion. The choice to join a prison ministry rarely ranks very high in the Sunday check your volunteer box, if it is indeed an option at all. I’d suggest if you want your little light to shine, go into the darkness and beam yourself up. My book, Jesus Inside offers a step by step approach to getting started, but I’m not writing today just to plug book sales.
If prison visitation is allowed to be privatized for profit, what do you suppose the future of prison ministries will look like ?
The simple fact is you don’t have to know an inmate to visit inmates and if enough of us engage in the simple act of visiting, the powers that be can be moved to commonsense and compassion by the Power of Love we aim to represent. So this Christmas, go ahead and take Jesus Inside a jail near you and come face to face with a hope that bars and barbed wire cannot contain.