What I Learned In Prison

I did hard time for 4 years, but only on Thursday nights between 6:30 and 8:30 pm.  I was never an inmate, I was a volunteer.

I was talking with a friend at the BMX track last night and the subject of prison ministry crept into the conversation.  To make a long story short, when I attended church I was part of the Inside/Out Prison Ministry where a group of us would go in and have a “bible study” with inmates in the chapel.  Basically we would get in a big circle and just discuss Christ and the Word (which He is anyway).  Talking last night made me realize a couple of things about church, and about being a follower of Christ.

Over the 4 years I was in prison, I was also taking a 2 year discipleship class at the church I attended, and then another 2 years to teach the class to another group of guys.  Well, all of this led me to study scripture in a different way.  I looked at the bible in a whole new light.

Then one day it hit me like a ton of bricks.  The church I attended was nothing like the church I read about in scripture, it was the small group of inmates I met with that felt like community to me.  To me this was what helped me determine what “church” really meant, and one of the main reasons I left the “institutional” church.

The talk in prison was about one thing only.. Christ.  And, when we talked we spoke from the heart.  There was no hiding behind a fake facade and acting like somebody we were not.  The only difference between the inmates and me is that they got caught.  Transparency was there every time, and we shared life together.  We were all just a bunch of sinners sitting around talking about the only thing that mattered… Christ.

I miss those guys, but unfortunately I cannot go in with the others anymore because I am not a member of the church I used to attend.  For me to get back in I have to be some sort of denomination.  I cannot go in myself as a follower of Christ.  Now isn’t that a bunch of bullshit.

So what all this boils down to is that the main thing I learned in prison was how to get out of the one I was attending on Sunday mornings.

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8 thoughts on “What I Learned In Prison

  1. I was an institutional pastor for nearly 20 years. After that I spent 3 1/2 years behind the walls as a prison chaplain. Those years working in prison produced by far the best fruit and fellowship with brothers that I’ve ever experienced. There’s something about jail that breaks away the facade and removes the masks from men. Christ was just simply “there” in a way that the organized church never held for me. I treasure the memories and rejoice that Father allowed me to go to the “least of these.” Though not a chaplain now, God has called me to go back to work in another correctional facility. I’m no longer a “religious professional” and prefer to shine His light as a regular guy in the darkest of places. Thanks for sharing Swanny. I, like you, was forever “ruined” by the community I found while locked away. “Church-as-usual” is a prison I broke out of never to return. Liberty is sweet…

  2. John – Thanks for sharing. It hits home when you say “ruined” by the community I found inside. Outside I have a hard time getting others to go beyond the surface. The heart is below the surface.. and yes we need to go there to help each other.

    It is hard to explain the difference, but you have been there and done that so you know exactly what I mean. I definitely saw Jesus in prison (the group), but had a real hard time seeing him at both our Sunday “church” or our other “small group” gatherings.

  3. I really enjoyed your post. Thank you for sharing that. I too have in recent years found myself in circumstances where I was actually prevented from Christian service simply because I am not “ordained” by some denominational group some where. It’s not that I never had the opportunity for ordination, as it was offered and I was strongly encouraged to become ordained a few times. But even years ago while in the “pastoral” ministry, ordination never sat well with me and so I always refused it. Blessings 🙂

  4. Will – Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings. I just do not understand why you have to have a certain covering before you can go in and help someone.. drives me nuts.

    But you know where I am coming from. Thanks for the comments.

  5. Swanny,

    A couple of brothers I meet with were preaching in jails regularly when they came out of the institutional church setting. They had to make up a new “church” name solely to get into the jails afterward. It does not exist in the 501c3 sense, doesn’t have a building, but it satisfied the sign-in requirements.

  6. Interesting that you should experience “church” in prison.

    Did you find the guys in prison were more or less gracious than typical people in church on the outside, and more or less legalistic? I wonder if the rules and regulations of prison makes the guys more gracious or more legalistic?

  7. Jeremy – It actually brought up a lot of discussion about the topic of legalism. From my experience I found them to be more gracious and less legalistic, but maybe I had a weird group of guys 🙂

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