It’s summer! For most of us that means some extra free time or, at least, a sense of greater freedom. That makes this a great time to think about our brothers and sisters who are in prison.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when we think about people in prison? Depending on our news sources and preference, our first thought might be “they’re getting what they deserve” or “they were probably treated unfairly.” But I want to challenge us all. As Christians, our first thought should be what Deacon Andy Daus thinks when he goes to do prison ministry: “I’m going to see Jesus.”
One of the transformations the world most needs today can be seen with great clarity when it comes to people in prison. We tend to think of them as “those people.” They become just a category: “them.” What we need to see is the humanity of each person, even in the midst of brokenness. As Deacon Daus says: “I’m just trying to treat them like human beings.”
Is it messy? Yes. But, spiritually, so is each of us. When we think of people in prison we tend to think of their bad situations, or bad actions, or bad habits. But one of our thoughts should be that this is what every one of us deserves, spiritually.
How did Jesus respond to us in that situation? He saw us, loved us and came to be with us. He’s right here, in the midst of all the light and darkness in our lives. If that’s how Jesus deals with us, how should we deal with those who are not only spiritually but physically in prison?
When someone gets out of prison, Criminal Justice Ministry comes through. Their work has been profiled in these pages before. They do a great job reducing the rate of return to prison – which is shockingly high nationally (66%), and amazingly low for those who work with CJM (22%).
But for now, let’s just focus on those in prison. And Deacon Daus’ point about them is really important: “You don’t have to get them out. The message they need to hear is: we care.”
As Catholics, we go to the peripheries. We care for the voiceless and the vulnerable in many ways. One of those ways is our ministry to those in prison. Why do we do it? In the end, for one reason: Because Jesus called us to do it. But it wasn’t only a command, it was an invitation. If and when we obey Him, we’ll find our obedience transformed into a place of encounter. As Deacon Daus says, when he goes to minister to the imprisoned, “I see Jesus looking back at me from the other side.”
That’s what we’ll all find if and when we go to the peripheries.