Prisons? How do we see prisons? You might find that, like me, you haven’t thought an awful lot about it. However, if you stop and surmise for a moment like me you might realise how much your view of prisons has been honed by what you have seen through The Troubles and the documentaries since. Prisons are about keeping people inside. For decades they were very dangerous people; heighten the security.
Perhaps, as well as making sure they do not get out, we are all about the punishment. I mean these are criminals. Justice is demanded. Give them bread and water and all this talk about televisions and pool tables… perhaps we do not think that prisons should look like that.
As a follower of Jesus prisons are an irritant. I cannot dismiss them as places to keep people in or be all about punishment. Jesus had a special place for the prisoner.
That first time that he stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and open the scroll of Isaiah, right there in the text were the words - “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”
At the end of his life, when he is talking to his disciples about how you can tell who is getting in to the Kingdom and who is not, Jesus tells them that they can do good to him when they do good to the marginalised - “I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
It is important that we see that at the heart of Jesus ministry, and at the centre of what the Bible reveals to us about the character of God, is redemption. It is not judgement but the transforming power of grace that Jesus came to do and teach us.
That should change how we see prisons and indeed prisoners. The rehabilitation and indeed redemption of prisoners should be high on our agenda. The reduction of re-offending should be a priority when we pray for a peaceful and prosperous city, as Jeremiah asked us to.
Surely, we should be calling for the building of prisons of grace and praying for the Spirit’s transformative power and that by God’s unmerited love criminals become repentant reborn humans, eventually leaving prison to make positive contributions to society that forgives and sets them free, without stigma.
On this year’s Prisons Week I am asking how I see prisons and what I am doing about the prisoners that Jesus identified himself with?