Day 23 – Devotional & Discussion March 31, 2014

2 Chronicles 16:1-10 (NIV),  Jeremiah 38:1-6 (NRSV)

In each of today’s Scriptures, prophets are placed in prison—Hanani for confronting King Asa about a questionable treaty with the King of Aram, and Jeremiah for being unpatriotic.  Hanani was placed in stocks and Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern (and left to starve to death).  Prisons are usually part of a larger apparatus of social control and oppression.

What are some current examples of the use of prisons to control political dissent or to oppress groups of people? 

“Nowhere in Scripture do we find a divine endorsement of prisons [as a place of punishment].”  So wrote Mark Olson in an article published in “The Other Side” magazine.  He went on to write, “Never, ever, in any part of the Bible are prisons part of God’s way. Always they are used to oppress. Always they are an affront to the divine. There are no good prisons. None” 

Do you agree or disagree with this statement?  Explain.  How has this year’s Compact challenged your view of prisons and how we treat prisoners?

4 comments

  1. On Saturday evening, a group of us watched the 2001 documentary, “Corrections”, which looked at the rise of the private prison. It was evident that when prisons become a part of the capitalist economy, prisoners become a commodity and incarceration becomes necessary for profits. The greatest threat to profits is a reduction in crime, reduction in the length of incarceration, and reduction in the number of inmates. I would definitely agree that for-profit prisons are never good. It changes the whole dynamic of the idea of correction and will lead to oppression of more and more people. Those who have the least amount of power (youth, people of color, the poor) will be most likely to be swept into the system for the sake of investor’s bottom line. THAT is definitely an affront to the divine.

  2. I have always viewed prisons as a place I don’t want to go, but I can’t say that those thoughts have served as a deterrent in a meaningful sense. For instance, I don’t go around thinking, “I had better not drive recklessly, because I could go to prison.” The threat of prison is not in the forefront of my mind.

    I regularly hear horror stories about prisons. They seem to be places where people can be raped and learn how to be worse people. I also have heard about how people have changed for the good in prison. I can’t say that I have an authoritative perspective on prisons. I worked for three years at a juvenile detention facility, but that had so many differences from prison. Residents were there only temporarily until their court cases were complete. After their case, if they were not acquitted, they were often sent to long-term treatment facilities of various kinds. The center was a very healthy place for the kids, most times moreso than the climate they were coming out of.

    When I visited an inmate twice last year in our county prison, though I didn’t get to see the inner-workings of the facility, I was impressed with it’s safety and security. The stories he told me about life on the inside was that it was incredibly easy. I know not all prisons are alike.

    I would love to see the corrections system go through a massive reform so that we wouldn’t need as many prisons. This compact has me thinking both about reform and even more about outreach to those in prison.

  3. Today, I went to court with a man from our community. He had found a cell phone and had gotten in touch with the owner to let her know he had found it. They arranged a place to meet so he could return it to her. When he arrived at the location, the woman was joined by police who arrested him and charged him with “theft of lost property.” Yes, there is such a law though it is very obscure. Today was his initially hearing and he had asked several community people who knew him to come to support him. When his name was called, he went before the judge. Before it could go any further, the prosecutor asked for a continuance because the owner of the phone was not present. After the judge looked over the documents and asked several questions of the prosecutor, he denied the request for a continuance and told our friend that he was free to go. I’m grateful that the system worked today for our friend. However, his life was interrupted for two months and it could have ended very differently with a different judge. Can somebody tell me why we have a law that punishes people for finding and trying to return lost property?

    1. That’s a really cool story, at least in the sense that the judge was merciful. We have a similar situation in our community. I think I mentioned it in a previous post. Late last year, a guy who lives just down the street from our church building accidently shot and killed his infant. Tragic. This week he had trial where he pled guilty or no contest, and could have been given prison time. But the judge gave him 6 years probation saying that he had been punished enough already, dealing with the loss. I was very thankful to hear that.

      To respond to your closing question, I wonder if the law was intended to inspire people to return lost property. If you find something lost, you should seek to return it to its owner. Often people find lost property and never seek to find the owner. The law says never attempting to find the owner is an instance of stealing. It seems to me the fault in this situation was with the police officers or maybe the owner. There is always a subjectivity to the application of laws, and in this case they should have used their common sense to see that your friend was not breaking the law, but keeping it. Thankfully the judge had common sense. I say keep the law. But maybe clarify it a bit, if possible, to prevent its misapplication by people who lack common sense.

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