From The Garden Bench - Prison
Words by David Hollows
Currently the United Kingdom has a prison population of more than eighty thousand people with many prisoners being kept in their cells for up to twenty three hours each day in order to keep prisoners safe from the spread of Covid-19. Some people have referred to this a solitary confinement. We know that solitary confinement has to take place for some prisoners to maintain their safety and that some prisoners are detained in high-risk prisons for much the same reason or because they are such a risk to other people.
In a developed country such as ours, it is such a shame that we still have to have prisons for people in our society who commit a crime for whatever reason and who waste their talents, gifting and opportunities to become a burden on society rather than enrich it.
Yet, prisoners are not just those who offend against society and have to be punished. Prison can be a feature of many people’s lives and in many different ways.
For many of us during the spring Covid-19 lockdown, our homes became almost our own personal prison: having to stay at home, only going out for certain key reasons such as essential shopping or health-care, having to shield ourselves if we are in a certain age-range, isolating ourselves if we contracted the virus or suspected that we may have.
During the beautiful months of March to May, the sense of loneliness for some was akin to solitary confinement when the only human contact was a telephone call or the television.
Photo by Denny Müller via Unsplash
The sense of imprisonment was a new experience for most of us but there are some for whom this is a regular part of their daily living as a disability or being housebound means that home can be a place of imprisonment rather than enjoyment and peace. We know through media sources of the increase of domestic abuse during the spring lockdown caused by people being together for long periods of time, allowing abusers more time and opportunity with their victims and the home becoming a prison for both.
We have learned how people can be prisoners of mental health issues and the way the mind can limit the extent of how people live their lives and that for some, the body can become a type of prison as well, restricting movement and lifestyle options.
Prison is a term which can also be applied to those who are trafficked for a variety of purposes or are retained as low-paid workers in car wash places or as part of work groups.
There are millions of people kept in the prison-style Caste system of India and other eastern countries where your lifestyle is determined for you at birth and you remain in that state for most of your life. In the brick kilns of Pakistan, children and adults alike are retained in a state of imprisonment until the family debt is paid and in North Korea where you live determines the food you eat, the job you have and the type of home you live in.
Prison means lots of different things to different people in different parts of the world and you do not have to have committed a criminal offence.
There are thousands of prisoners of conscience in the world as well as political prisoners as recently witnessed in places such as Minsk in Belarus. We know that there are thousands of Christian prisoners of faith such as those detained in shipping containers in Ethiopia or in Evin prison in Iran.
There are those who are prisoners caused by poverty, a lack of education or a forced early marriage as well as those who are prisoners of other people’s racist or sexist attitudes.
Social addictions such as drugs and alcohol can render people prisoner and a serious issue is the number of young men and women who are kept prisoner by drug gangs in order to deliver drugs across county lines.
Other people are kept in prison by their own religious or political beliefs as they cannot or will not see beyond their own attitudes. For others it is greed, prejudice, xenophobia or anger which keep people as prisoner from the people they could really be.
On a more positive note, thankfully we have many people who can alleviate this sense of being prisoner: there are Prison Chaplains as well as groups which advocate on behalf of others such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International and Amnesty International.
During the spring lockdown, many of us developed a community spirit of checking on other, and often older, neighbours. Caring for others, even in the darkest of places, is a key feature of the Christian life:
‘The cells were only two metres by six metres and we were up to 20 people in there at times. the best part of being there was that we were able to have Bibles and preach to fellow inmates.’
Pastors used their experience in a prison in Sudan to show and tell others in the prison of God’s love.
Photo by Rod Long via Unsplash
In the Bible there are several occasions when the people of God are in prison: Joseph spent 2 years in prison as the victim of another person’s mistreatment of him (Genesis chapter 40) as did Daniel as a faith prisoner (Daniel chapter 4) Paul and Silas were kept in prison (Acts chapter 16) as was Peter (Acts chapter 12) and all because of their faith and refusal to comply with the local religious authorities.
The beggar at the Beautiful gate to the Jerusalem temple was a prisoner to his physical challenges (Acts chapter 3) and Jeremiah was a prisoner in the stocks in full public view because his message from God was not appreciated (Jeremiah chapter 20).
Paul was kept under house arrest in Rome for several years (2 Timothy chapter 2 verse 9) and John, the Baptiser, was beheaded whilst in prison (Mark chapter 6).
The love and mercy of God mean that we are set free from those aspects of human life which can cause us to be prisoners. The grace of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, means that we receive from God all that we need to live free lives. This does not mean that we will never fail or fall instead we have the assurance of forgiveness and restoration, that God is always there for us and will never let us down.
If you are in the position of thinking that your life is a prison for whatever reason, turn to God and ask Him to set you free to live the life He has planned for you.
You may find the following hymn useful:
Make me a captive, Lord (Mission Praise 455)
You may find the following prayer helpful:
God of love, whose compassion never fails, we pray for those who are in prison or kept in detention, for those who are captive to social addictions or the attitudes of others. We pray for release for those who are political or religious prisoners and for those whose lifestyle keeps them in a form of prison. God, we pray for those we know whose attitudes and actions restrict their humanity and keep them prisoner from being the people you designed them to become. We pray for ourselves, that we may be set free from any unacceptable attitude which imprisons us in order that we can be your blessing to others.
Photo by Eric X via Unsplash
God bless you
Signing off; your local Lay worker, David Hollows