Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Light - Part IV

I recently read an A.P. article (published a few years ago) which reported the results of a first-of-it's kind study on the effects of "religion" on prison inmates.

According to the article, the study found that prisoners who come under religious influence while they're behind the walls do better once they're back on the outside and in society than those who lack such influence.

The findings of the study on the rehabilitative effect of religion on prisoners could have wide implications for the prison system, although more study is needed, the researchers say. "The results are phenomenal," said John Gartner of Baltimore, a clinical psychologist who headed the five-member research team. "There haven't been any findings of effectiveness that were this strong... religion "may be a powerful, and until now neglected, method of rehabilitation." Gartner said that researchers have ignored the spiritual part of a person. "Religion is a gap. It's a blind spot in the social sciences, not even consistent with the spirit of science." A blind spot? Really? (Insert sarcastic tone.)

I strongly believe in giving an inmate education and job skills. We must do this. However, if we teach him to read and then educate him, teach him a trade and show him how to dress and interview for a job-- and if we ignore the spirit of that inmate-- we will end up with educated, skilled, well-dressed criminals.
Chaplain Ken George
Since the beginning of the Advent season I have been pondering and praying about light overcoming darkness. This happens to a certain extent every year, but this year my thoughts have been more focused and persistent, as have my conversations with God. I keep thinking of the scriptures I've included here in previous posts. I keep visualizing light and darkness. I keep thinking of the prison where Ken works. This is the first Christmas in about 15 years that we will not spend conducting worship in the prison chapel. It is a wonderful experience. I posted about it last year. This year we will be travelling to Minnesota for Christmas since our daughter, being "great with child" cannot travel here. However, we will participate next Tuesday night in a prison service of readings and carols. Ah, that sounds charming and old fashioned. At the prison it will be loud, a bit off key, and fun.

This year our church participated, once again, in the Angel Tree Project sponsored by Prison Fellowship. This program helps contact families of prisoners who wish to give a gift to a child back home. The gifts, given in the name of an incarcerated parent, are being delivered to the children this week, along with love and a smile and a simple gospel message.

There is also the Salvation Army's Toy Lift Project. Along with other needy children, inmates children can receive toys at the Holidays.

Prison is dark. And yet, in the darkest places the light sometimes shines the most brightly.

I recall walking down the street in Milwaukee a few years ago on a drizzly day in winter. I passed a plate glass window and glanced inside at restaurant patrons as I continued down the sidewalk. Suddenly, a young black man leaped to his feet and ran to the window. He smiled broadly and gestured dramatically. I stopped, puzzled. He kept smiling and waving and pointing to himself. I grew more puzzled. Finally he signed for me to wait. He ran out of the building and dashed up to me, eyes sparkling in joy and recognition. "Don't you remember me, Miz. Chaplain George?" I smiled, understanding that he knew me from the prison, but had to admit I had no idea who he was.
When he said his name was Leon, recognition came, and I stepped back in amazement. "Wow! You have changed." I remembered Leon as a faithful attender at chapel worship services. I knew he also attended Bible study, prayed with some of his fellow Christians back on his "unit" and sang in the prison choir. I also recalled him as depressed, with long and generally unkempt hair, shuffling as he walked and with dull eyes. Now he looked great. His hair was neatly braided, he wore a clean pair of pants and shirt and his eyes shone with life. "I'm good. You tell Chaplain that. I got a job." He gestured towards the window. "Those folks work with me. We are having lunch together today. I'm still with my wife, and we found a good church to go to. The pastor helped me get the job." I gave him a hug, something I never did when he was "inside." "I'm so glad to see you" I said. "It is wonderful to see you standing straight, looking me in the eye and smiling." He grinned back at me. "It was Jesus. It was the chapel and the brothers and the chaplain. You tell him that." "I will" I promised.

Such stories are all too rare. But the value of a life--even one--how can it be measured?

I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will no longer walk in darkness, but will have a life of light. John 8:12

Thank you, God, for the people of Prison Fellowship, and the Salvation Army and other organizations who reach out to those who are in dark places. Thank you for chaplains, and volunteers, and churches, and gifts of love. I pray for love to break through the darkness, even today. Amen

Oh, if you are wondering what the picture of me in the pulpit has to do with anything, our church's pulpit was made by the inmates. I seldom stand behind it without at least a quick thought and prayer for those "inside."


Anonymous said...

SO, I am absolutely loving every installment in this series! Thank you for helping me in my Advent devotions.

Iris said...

Beautiful! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit that I too will miss the prison this year.
I have spoken at the prison at least 2 or 3 times, and have done "specials" for the inmates at Christmas too.
They are always so encouraging and thankful that we are there.
I think Daryl's first time there might have been Christmas and he too as touched.
Of course, being "great with child" I can't go this year, but maybe next year. :)

Truth said...

What an inspiring post! While taking classes at bible college we were encouraged to visit many different ministries, one of which was prison ministry. I absolutely loved going. Thanks for sharing, and what a beautiful pulpit.