Here is a shared letter from a friend, Rev. Philip Reller of
In Matthew’s oft-recalled “Judgment of the Nations” the king
will say to the sheep, “I was in prison and you visited me” and the unknowing
righteous will ask “when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited
And the king will say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it
to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
(Mathew 25: 34-46 NRSV)
Jesus is intimate with his family. He is specific about
visiting prisoners. We are called to embody Jesus’ heart and show forth his
compassion to prisoners.
It is a very practical ministry of – Incarnation – love made
visible in the flesh. Being there. Ours are a new set of ears listening to
immensely consequential stories which have worn thin in the retelling to
familiar cell and pod mates. Ours are new conversations and new perspectives.
It is a ministry of advocacy. Being there. The men I visit
are cut off by thousands of miles from their families, communities, and support
systems in private for-profit prisons. They are treated as strange enemies and
are forced into culturally and religiously molded programs of “rehabilitation”
which strip them of their cultural identity and dignity. Visiting allows us to
witness their struggle and speak as allies for rehabilitation and respectful
It is a ministry of reconciliation. Being there. I have been
allowed to share first hand reports of the condition of their sons, husbands,
and daddies with families who have been estranged or ashamed or in the
confusion of unresolved anger and grief. Appropriate sharing can build bridges
towards forgiveness and new relationships. It can calm deep anxieties. It can
pave the way for connections that create positive re-entry.
million citizens are active in the
US criminal justice system.
million US sisters and brothers are incarcerated.
- 1 in
every 100 men, 1 in every 1700 women resides in a state or federal
- The US
incarcerates more of its own citizens than any other country in the world.
fastest growing industry in Arizona is the private for-profit prison
What do these facts tell us about our country, our
communities, our relationships? What do we as people of faith, both the
incarcerated and those on the outside, have to say about these realities? How
do they call us to be engaged as Jesus’ family?
Visiting the incarcerated becomes a prophetic ministry. It
changes lives. It opens doors to find solutions. It fills deep empty places
with hope and love.
Let us come together to support renewed ministries for and
with prisoners and their families, to seek alternatives to current
culturally-biased, punitive rather than restorative criminal justice stances,
and let us create networks of covenant partners for education, advocacy, and
presence with our incarcerated sisters and brothers.