The View Behind Bars

A Student Activist's Take on Incarceration from the Inside

As my second week in prison comes to a close, it becomes increasingly clear that the prison system serves little purpose than that of a multi-billion dollar industry.

The economics of incarceration
Each federal prison receives $20,000 and up per year per inmate for room and board. This money is supposedly used for the upkeep of an eight feet by nine feet cubicle housing two people, and to purchase our food (despite most of the food being expired, unsellable goods donated by supermarkets for tax write-offs).

In comparison, it costs less than $15,000 per year to live and eat at most private colleges, institutions hardly known for skimping.

The prisons also receive funds for inmates enrolled in GED classes, drug programs, and other “self-improvement” courses. The received compensation actually decreases the effort applied to help inmates—if inmates fail and are forced to retake the courses, it insures additional payments to the prison.

On top of all this, the commissary appears to inflate prices 150%-200%, and phone charges are about three times the cost of the most expensive phone rates available on the outside. Most products sold and used within the walls seem to be manufactured by companies invested in or owned by big business or those with significant political influence.

What makes this a Christian country?
From this assessment a paradox arises—we live in a predominantly Christian country in which our president and vice-president proclaim their devotion to this religion on a daily basis. But, based on the view from prison, we fail in practicing it.

Perhaps our leaders’ Bibles lack the Sermon on the Mount, or maybe they simply ignore Christ’s words when he speaks about money:

“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon ” (Matthew 6:24).

Despite this teaching we live in a world consumed by Mammon. A society which measures success by money and material rather than by love and relationships.

We are also surrounded by militarism and weapons manufacturing; we profit through war. You could say that we worship Mammon and Mars, placing God as a distant third.

Choosing the Living God

I am not suggesting one should give up all s/he owns and plunge into intentional poverty, for it is difficult for even the strongest spirits. What I am suggesting is each of us consciously begin pushing away the gods of the “empire” and move toward the Living God of love and Christ’s teachings.

Protest the insanity enveloping our world in any way you can, and continue increasing the effort.

It is a long, uphill battle, but one, as Christians, we are obliged to accept. We must accept this task before we are drowned by the nothingness Mammon and Mars create. We must do something. Something is better than nothing. And we really can’t afford to wait.