A Christian in Prison
It’s a new year, so let’s start things out with a bang. I’m a felon. Yeah, that’s right. I committed a crime. And got caught.
I won’t bore you with the details of what happened, because frankly they’re irrelevant.
I also won’t parade any excuses or justifications or claims of ignorance of my crime, because — again — they’re irrelevant.
At the end of the day, I was convicted of a crime. That’s all that matters.
What I will offer is the assurance my crime did not include drugs, sex, or violence. I was a classic “white collar” criminal. However much that may comfort you in an era fraught with massive fraud schemes and a looming recession. And a questionable white house.
Anywho, this little piece of my history includes a bid in prison. This was a frustrating, emotional, and yet fascinating experience for me. Looking back, I grew closer to God and my wife through that journey and its challenges.
If I Get One More “Joseph” Letter…
I had the benefit of a good church and close friends praying for my family and me while I was down (the typical prison term for being imprisoned). As a result, I received a lot of letters from people. Juggling each conversation without the modern conveniences of threaded messages or inbox searches had its challenges, but one particular challenge came from some (many, actually) well-intentioned friends.
It seems that everyone who wanted to encourage me wanted to liken my experience with that of Joseph, who was similarly imprisoned unexpectedly and with shaky justification (though in his case, he was completely innocent of his crime). The letter usually went something like this:
I’d like you to read through Joseph’s story in Genesis 39. I bet it sounds
familiar. God used him despite being in prison. God can do the same for you.
It was so sweet and kind to encourage me… the first dozen times I got that letter. Everyone, it seems, found this epiphany enlightening. I didn’t want to discourage it, so I didn’t dare to say what I really felt:
I’m sick of the Joseph story. Sure, God can use me. But that doesn’t make up
for lost time with my family. It doesn’t make me miss my wife’s kisses any
less. It doesn’t make me stop longing to train up my child. It doesn’t make
me any more at peace.
And in truth, it didn’t. For the most part, God’s peace surrounded me during my sentence. His hand was on me, and I rarely suffered from the anxiety I saw over and over in others there.
But those letters still annoyed me. Much like when someone tells you a joke you found funny… two years ago.
Coming to Terms with Joseph
Time has passed since the end of my sentence, and I can look back on that annoyance with amusement. In truth, all those well-intentioned writers were right on. I had a Joseph-like journey. I can even smile as I call it that, because I saw what God was able to do in the life of a young man who made some foolish decisions and was forced to pay the consequences.
I’d like to spend a few weeks reflecting on my Joseph Journey and give you some insight into the life of a Christian in prison.
If nothing else, prison is a fascinating cultural study. Everything else a Christian in prison (or anyone else, for that matter) experiences is ultimately hollow noise unless it’s played with the musical backdrop of the fellow inmates and staff.
The social dynamics at play in prison are fairly complex, and they vary from prison to prison. Different security levels, different authorities, and different locations each have their own influence. Even the programs available at the prison has a strong effect on prison society. In general, though, you’re really left with only two primary groups: the inmates and the staff.
For the next couple weeks, I’ll delve a bit into what these groups really represent, and how they affected me.