“This Bible … it’s just whack!”
The young man, a prisoner at the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup, is discussing a reading assignment with Jerome Copulsky, a professor of religious studies at Goucher College in Baltimore. The in-prison class is part of a new program set up by the Department of Education to provide “high-level educational opportunities” for incarcerated adults.
“It’s like—it’s like a book about the Mafia, man!” the prisoner continues. The discussion centers around the first chapter of I Kings, which describes the efforts by Adonijah, son of King David, to ascend to his father’s throne during David’s final days. “The whole story is about power and deceit,” he says. “I mean, there is even a hit list!”
The men in the class bring a unique understanding of the power struggle between Adonijah and his half-brother, Solomon. Many have lived lives where such intrigue and backstabbing were essential parts of their criminal endeavors. Being able to see a part of themselves in the biblical narrative helps to make the stories more relatable.
“As a professor, my aim is to encourage students to question and interrogate their fundamental presuppositions, prejudices, and commitments, to develop the faculties of empathy and appreciation, and to investigate what it means to be a human being and to strive for a good life,” Copulsky says in an article for The Atlantic. “In no classroom have I seen this occur more powerfully than those at Jessup. There is something palpably at stake in that classroom, as these students confront the text with their own eyes, through their own experiences. … As they do, I witness these men building their minds, grappling with ideas that for them are not merely abstract but of the most immediate and ultimate concern. I suspect that they continue these discussions long after I leave.”
For Christians, of course, the message of the Bible offers much more than behavior modification—it holds the promise of true transformation, the changing of the soul that only comes through Christ. Stories like those in I Kings not only reveal deeply flawed human beings with whom everyone can relate, they reveal a faithful God who loves those imperfect people, and is willing to offer forgiveness to all who seek it.
Across the country, Prison Fellowship volunteers are entering corrections facilities, offering men and women behind bars hope and restoration. Through in-prison Bible studies, prisoners are learning of God’s love for them, and are being remade as disciples of Christ. The lessons learned are more than mere history or even theology—they are lessons that will change hearts and minds, and will result in men and women who are better prisoners, better parents, better spouses, and better citizens than they were before.
To learn more about how you can be a part of taking the Good News of Jesus to those behind bars, visit our get involved page.