Being a Christian When People Are Better Off in Prison
Federal Prison Camp, Maxwell Air Force Base—I was speaking to one of my friends today as we sat by the river inside the Camp. We were talking about life in prison as opposed to life on the outside.
He said “I like it here. My life is better here. On the outside, I was living in substandard housing, had almost no food to eat, and no friends. Here, I have three meals a day, friends. And my housing is decent. I’m better off here.”
When he said this I nearly fell out of my seat. How could a person be better off in prison?
What does freedom matter?
I pondered this. I realized that here in prison we may lose our freedom, but does freedom really matter you are not free from hunger, homelessness, and disease? If you are not free from misery?
The reality is, minus their so-called freedom, many people can live better, healthier lives in prison simply because basic necessities are met. Inmates receive their basic needs because the law requires it. Unfortunately there is no law requiring the same for the un-imprisoned poor.
The Air Force and Alabama
My prison is located on Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Slums surround the base.
I can think of few things more insulting than having a rundown house (if you
can call it a house)—with no heating or electricity—sitting right next to a massive city of war with excess supplies of anything and everything anyone could want.
Isn’t it a slap in the face from the government, saying to those folks, “Our bombs and guns are more important than your lives”?
Symbols of state
I am currently reading Father John Dear’s Seeds of Nonviolence. He writes of the homeless of Washington, D.C., languishing across the street from the Pentagon, the White House, the Capitol, and all the other government buildings, buildings that supposedly represent a better life for all of us.
How does New Mexico remain one of the poorest states in the U.S. while number one in military spending and on the map of nuclear weapons development? It seems that anywhere the war machine exists poverty is close by.
The revolutionary call of a Christian
As Christians, it is our obligation to oppose this unholy injustice. The gospels speak a clear message of peace and nonviolence. Jesus spent his life serving the poor, and he charged anyone who would be his disciple to do the same. He said, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me” (Mathew 26:40).
So Jesus charges us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the imprisoned, cure the ill—to see His face in the face of every poor and oppressed person in the world. In his time, this was so revolutionary that the rich and powerful were threatened enough to crucify him.
Today, his ideas remain revolutionary, counter-cultural. We are taught to exercise compassion for the poor but only to the extent that it does not greatly disrupt our lives. We are often similar to the rich man who wanted to follow Jesus, but was unwilling to give up everything for discipleship (Matthew 19:16-22).
To follow Christ today, means to put aside all we have and know and begin our lives anew with faith in God as our only possession.
We must do more than give the homeless our change, we must invite then into our homes. To a barefoot woman, we must give the shoes from our own feet. We must be willing to go to jail for peace and nonviolence; oppose hate and war with all that we are.
These things are difficult to do, but they must be done because it is what Christ requires of us.