I visit prisons frequently, and rarely do I feel uncomfortable. When the prison staff will permit it, I shake hands with and even embrace incarcerated men without fear. But one recent experience left me feeling shaken.
After a worship service in a prison auditorium, I was taken to F Block, a multi-tier roundhouse where the prison’s most violent and hardened residents are kept. Imagine four stories of 8-by-10-foot cells, arranged in a circle around a central guard house where officers keep watch. The men living there, two to a cell, are an imminent danger to others. Because of this, they stay in their cells 23 hours a day, and they have only 30 minutes of outside exercise time per week.
As soon as I entered F Block, I felt like a 50-pound sack had been placed on my back. Though the men were behind bars, I felt frightened. Their hopelessness, anger, and spiritual darkness were palpable.
I have known men and women who were equally enslaved to hatred and violence in the past. Their wrath and hard-heartedness closed them in just as surely as the bricks and bars of F Block. But I have also seen light scatter darkness; I have seen prisoners just like these transformed by the overpowering love of Jesus. Some of them are now on the staff of Prison Fellowship. Others are highly valued volunteers and collaborators. Still others are leaders of the Church behind the walls.
Only Jesus can set prisoners free in the most meaningful, eternal sense. He alone has the power to break their bonds. As you read this, would you please take a moment to join me in prayer for the residents of F Block? Pray for light to dispel the darkness there.