Category : Prison/Prison Ministry

(LA Times) When jail chaplains are volunteers, some faiths are more present than others

The chaplains in the Los Angeles County jails, some of whom were once behind bars themselves, are united by a simple mission: remind inmates of their humanity. It’s a job they often do in one-on-one visits. They’ll tell jokes, share a prayer, teach a religious text, or simply listen.

Many inmates come from broken homes, have been homeless, or don’t have someone who cares about them. The attention and compassion of a chaplain can go a long way.

The county provides no funding for jail chaplains, so their presence depends on volunteers and religious institutions that may offer support. Consequently, chaplains from particular faiths can struggle or work long hours to meet the demand of inmates who want to see them.

Read it all.

Posted in Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture

(Premiere) Bishops push for better support for women released from prison

The Bishop of Newcastle, together with the Bishop of Gloucester, hosted an event in the House of Lords on Tuesday 15 October to highlight the importance of finding suitable accommodation for women released from prison.

The event, supported by the Church Commissioners and Dame Caroline Spelman MP, brought together people and organisations from across the country who work with women in prison, in the community through Women’s Centres, housing providers and MPs. The event showcased powerful examples of how people are working to drive change for disadvantaged women.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Ethics / Moral Theology, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, Women

(ESPN) Megan Rapinoe’s brother Brian–her greatest heartbreak, and hope

“I want to make a difference,” he says. “I want to be like Megan.”

He had “a really fricking deep conversation” with her about two months ago. They talked about racial profiling; they talked about police brutality; they talked about what Megan’s kneeling meant to both of them. Megan saw that in spite of their very different paths, they’d arrived at similar conclusions.

“My brother is special,” Megan says. “He has so much to offer. It would be such a shame if he left this world with nothing but prison sentences behind him. To be able to have him out, and to play for him, and to have him healthy, with this different perspective that he has now: This is like the best thing ever.”

While Megan is in France, she and Brian text daily — with game thoughts, encouragement and shared excitement.

“This is one of the most exciting things I can even remember … just everything really, you, the school, the program,” Brian texts.

She replies: “People always ask me what got me into soccer … your wild ass of course.”

“Luckily I played a cool sport. What if I’d been into arm-wrestling or something.”

“Oh lawd, yea you really set me up.”

“Get some sleep — love you.”

“Lovee you Bri! Let’s f—ing go!”

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Prison/Prison Ministry, Sports

(CT) Allen Langham–My journey from the criminal underworld to the foot of the cross

During my stints in prison, I was always drawn to the chapel. I considered it a place of refuge, just as church had offered a safe haven from the tumult of my childhood. Over the years, I experimented with everything: Buddhism, Hinduism, spiritualism, counseling, course after course, medication—but nothing worked. I was still a wreck. Despite my burning desire to change, I couldn’t find any peace or stability.

Eventually, after stabbing a number of fellow inmates, I landed in Belmarsh, a top-security prison in southeast London. I hated who I had become. With my violent outbursts and paranoid behavior, I had pushed away anyone I ever cared for—and put my family through hell. I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually broken. Outwardly, I sought “respect” by lashing out against anyone or anything in my way. But on the inside, I remained a lost little boy in desperate need of love and acceptance.

While awaiting trial in a kidnapping and hostage-taking case, I finally hit rock bottom and decided to commit suicide. With tears streaming down my face, I dropped to my knees and made one final plea to God: “If you’re real and you hear me, put a white dove outside my prison window. Show me you are with me!” At the time, I had no conception of the dove being a symbol for the Holy Spirit. I was only looking for some sign of hope and new beginnings.

The next morning, when a flock of pigeons lifted off the nearby ledge, I saw the dove sitting there. Something inside me jumped, and tears of joy replaced tears of despair.

After transferring to another prison in Leeds, I began praying and studying the Bible in earnest. Reading Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield of the Mind, I stumbled across a chapter where Meyer describes taking the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, rolling it into a ball, and laying it at Jesus’ feet. I decided to do the same with my rage. Before going to sleep, I closed my eyes, imagined Jesus on the cross, balled up my rage, and surrendered it to him. When I awoke, I felt peace like never before.

Read it all.

Posted in Christology, Prison/Prison Ministry, Soteriology

(WSJ) Jihadists Behind Bars Pose New Threats for Europe

A terrorism trial starting here on Thursday highlights the difficulties Europe’s courts and prisons face containing the spread of jihadist ideology behind bars.

Mehdi Nemmouche, a 33-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin, faces life in prison for allegedly shooting and killing four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum in May 2014. But once in prison, law-enforcement officials warn, terror suspects and convicts breed even more plots and spread their ideology to other inmates.

European prisons are fertile recruiting ground for new terrorists despite efforts in France, Belgium and other European countries to isolate dangerous and radicalized suspects in dedicated wards to prevent them from proselytizing. The perpetrators in several recent attacks were radicalized in prison, including Mr. Nemmouche and an alleged accomplice also on trial, say prosecutors. In Belgium, which has the highest per capita rate of returnees from Syria and Iraq in Europe, one third of 125 returnees were in prison in early 2018, according to the Egmont Institute, a Brussels-based think tank….

Read it all.

Posted in Belgium, Europe, France, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Violence

(Arda) David Briggs–Faithful man walking: Science finds multiple benefits of religion for justice system

Several studies of religion and mental health have shown religious beliefs and practices and positive relationships with a divine being can be powerful resources helping people cope with major challenges such as illness and unemployment.

More recent research also suggests faith may help individuals deal with intense, lasting anger.

Scholars in the developing field of religion and criminal justice are finding evidence that suggests practical ways faith may turn lives around even in the depths of prison.

One of those new findings: Organized religion matters.

A study of 571 prisoners in Oregon found those who identified as religious and spiritual were less likely to reoffend in the 13 years after an initial 2004 survey than spiritual but not religious inmates. More frequent service attendance and the greater likelihood of spending time in private thought and prayer partially explained the differences.

The results highlight the importance of ensuring support for persons in prison in the process of making meaning, in addition to supporting the work of prisonchaplains and religious volunteers,” researchers reported in the Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Pastoral Theology, Prison/Prison Ministry, Psychology, Religion & Culture

(NYT Op-ed) Meek Mill: Prisoners Need a New Set of Rights

But I know I’m the exception to the rule — a lucky one. It’s clearer than ever that a disproportionate number of men and women of color are treated unfairly by a broken criminal justice system. The system causes a vicious cycle, feeding upon itself — sons and daughters grow up with their parents in and out of prison, and then become far more likely to become tied up in the arrest-jail-probation cycle. This is bad for families and our society as a whole.

We, as a free and democratic society, must do better. Since my release, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with several lawmakers such as Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, and I’m determined to use my platform to help those without the resources to make their voices heard.

We all need to hold our lawmakers accountable for supporting unfair or inhumane policies and all practices that perpetuate injustice, especially for the blacks and Latinos who fall prey to them most frequently. The reality is African-Americans and Latinos who come from poverty-stricken neighborhoods are assigned public defenders too overburdened to do anything in most cases other than negotiate the most favorable plea deal, regardless of guilt or innocence.

Soon, some friends and I will be announcing a foundation dedicated to achieving real change. In the meantime, if you’re interested in joining us and lending your support to solving what is the moral crisis of our time, please visit www.reformnow.com and sign up.

 

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, Prison/Prison Ministry, Race/Race Relations, Theology

(BBC) How an ex-heroin addict became a priest in Derby

The Reverend Darren Howie is a former thief and was addicted to heroin.

He spent a decade in and out of prison – and was once told by a prison chaplain, when he weighed just six-and-a-half stone, that he would die once he left prison.

However, Mr Howie got clean through a Christian rehabilitation programme….

Read it all and watch the whole video.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Prison/Prison Ministry

A poem written by Archpriest Grigory Petrov (Gregory Petrov) shortly before his death in a Siberian prison camp

From there:

What is my praise before Thee?

I have not heard the cherubim singing,
that is the lot of souls sublime,
but I know how nature praises thee.

In winter I have thought about the whole earth praying quietly to Thee in the
silence of the moon,
wrapped around in a mantle of white,
sparkling with diamonds of snow.

I have seen how the rising sun rejoiced in Thee,
and choirs of birds sang forth glory.

I have heard how secretly the forest noises Thee abroad,
how the winds sing,
the waters gurgle,
how the choirs of stars preach of Thee
in serried motion through unending space.

Posted in Liturgy, Music, Worship, Poetry & Literature, Prison/Prison Ministry, Russia

(PRC FactTank) America’s incarceration rate is at a two-decade low

The U.S. incarceration rate fell in 2016 to its lowest level in 20 years, according to new data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the statistical arm of the Department of Justice. Despite the decline, the United States incarcerates a larger share of its population than any other country.

At the end of 2016, there were about 2.2 million people behind bars in the U.S., including 1.5 million under the jurisdiction of federal and state prisons and roughly 741,000 in the custody of locally run jails. That amounts to a nationwide incarceration rate of 860 prison or jail inmates for every 100,000 adults ages 18 and older.

The nation’s incarceration rate peaked at 1,000 inmates per 100,000 adults during the three-year period between 2006 and 2008. It has declined every year since then and is now at its lowest point since 1996, when there were 830 inmates per 100,000 adults.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Prison/Prison Ministry

(Economist 1843) Can religion solve El Salvador’s gang problem?

El Salvador is a country of volcanoes dotted with coffee plantations and valleys filled with sugarcane fields. It is also a country of barbed-wire fences, security guards with guns, and neighbourhoods where visitors must roll down the car windows so that the gangs’ teenage postes can see who goes in and out. The Colonia Dina is one such neighbourhood, a jumble of working-class houses decorated with plants and Christmas lights, and sheet-metal shacks surrounded by rubbish and muddy chickens.

At the bottom of a hill under a drooping almond tree stands the Eben-Ezer church, a yellow concrete building barely distinguishable from the houses on either side. A small congregation gathers three times a week in a high-ceilinged sanctuary with rows of plastic chairs, a platform for the rock band that accompanies the Pentecostal service, a podium for the pastors and little else. Down a staircase in the back left corner, in rooms normally used for Bible study, former gang members bake bread by day and sleep on thin mattresses on the floor by night.

At first glance, the church’s leaders make an odd couple. Nelson Moz is Eben-Ezer’s official pastor, a baby-faced man in his 50s with glasses and a thick moustache. Early last year, he opened his doors to Wilfredo Gómez, a 41-year-old gangster-turned-preacher with twinkling eyes and a mystical church named the Last Trumpet. The two pastors acknowledge that they’re trying to do what many consider impossible: spirit away members of El Salvador’s powerful gangs. But they believe this is the country’s only hope.

Read it all.

Posted in --El Salvador, Pentecostal, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Prison/Prison Ministry, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) David Tubbs+Gregory Thornbury–Finding Faith at Folsom Prison

Johnny Cash recorded “At Folsom Prison” 50 years ago, on Jan. 13, 1968. The live album transcended the usual categories of popular music and ultimately sold more than three million copies. Cash’s willingness to play for a crowd of convicts fit with his outlaw image, but the venue choice reveals something crucial about his Christian beliefs.

Raised in Dyess, Ark., Cash became a Christian in 1944, when he was 12. Throughout his life, he showed an ardent desire to live according to the Gospels. But Cash was no paragon of Christian virtue. Stardom and the demands of his profession, especially the relentless travel, presented him with countless temptations. He could not resist many of them.

Cash’s struggle became particularly acute in the 1960s. He dealt with drug addiction and marital breakdown, and several brushes with the law only made his situation worse. While this drama hurt his career, it also gave Cash an acute sense of his vulnerabilities and enabled him to empathize with the prisoners in Folsom, Calif. As Robert Hilburn noted in his 2013 biography, “Cash knew what it was like to be in jail, to stand before his loved ones in handcuffs, and to walk through the seedy parts of town in search of drugs.”

Cash saw the Folsom concert as an opportunity to redeem himself.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Music, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, Soteriology

A Must-not-Miss Radiolab Podcast–Anna in Somalia

Take the time to listen to it all–what an incredible story (Hat tip:EH).

Posted in Books, Prison/Prison Ministry, Somalia

Economist Erasmus Blog on a little noticed case involving a prisoner gardener, religion and the law

The case concerns Barry Trayhorn, a man who was employed as gardener in an English prison, HMP Littlehey…, with 1,200 inmates, including sex offenders and young offenders. Although it wasn’t his job to do so, he liked to preach in the prison chapel, sometimes rather spontaneously. In another part of his life he is a Pentecostal minister.

In May 2014, for example, he read aloud a passage from Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which lists the wrongdoers who will be denied entry to the kingdom of God, including idol-worshippers, adulterers, and people described as arsenokoitai. (Scholars dispute the word’s exact meaning: it could refer to boy-prostitutes, to child-abusers, to practitioners of anal intercourse regardless of gender, or else generically to any sexual activity between men.) The claimant was of the latter persuasion and according to several people present, delivered this view rather stridently. The prison’s full-time chaplains agreed that he should have presented the passage more gently and “contextually”. Several prisoners complained, and disciplinary action against the zealous gardener was started; this prompted him to take sick leave and eventually quit the job.

In a ruling on August 1st, the Employment Appeal Tribunal dismissed his contention that he had been unfairly treated because of his religious views. It found that a lower court had been completely correct in reaching a similar conclusion.

Read it all.

Posted in England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Pastoral Theology, Pentecostal, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, Theology: Scripture

([London] Times) Roman Catholics are now largest faith group among inmates in England and Wales

Anglicanism has been toppled as the biggest religious denomination among prisoners in England and Wales for the first time.

Roman Catholics are the largest group of believers behind bars after years of steady decline in the number of Anglicans, official figures show. There are also only 1,500 fewer Muslim prisoners than Anglicans after their number rose more than sixfold since 1993.

The figures point to a huge change in the make-up of the jail population, which calls into question the historical role of the Church of England in the prison service.

Read it all and Christian Today also has an article there.

Posted in England / UK, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

(G+M) Pastor freed from North Korean prison lands in Canada, ‘in good health’

Toronto Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim is home, “in good health” and “good spirits,” after being freed from a labour camp in North Korea earlier this week, his family said.

“We’re extremely happy. We’re ecstatic and joyful that my father is now home,” James Lim, his son, said during a press conference at the Light Korean Presbyterian Church in Mississauga Saturday afternoon.

Mr. Lim, 62, was freed on “sick bail” Wednesday after a Canadian delegation, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national security adviser Daniel Jean, visited the country to discuss his case – more than a year and a half after he was sentenced to a life of hard labour in North Korea after being accused of trying to overthrow the regime.

Read it all.

Posted in Canada, North Korea, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture

(NYT) She’s His Rock. His Parole Officer Won’t Let Him See Her.

During Erroll Brantley Jr.’s nearly two years in prison, his girlfriend, Katherine Eaton, visited him three times a week, the maximum allowed. She wrote him letters and spent hundreds of dollars on phone calls, during which the couple spoke of their longing to be back together in her three-bedroom house with the picture window. Amid the I love yous and I miss yous, she promised to help him stay off heroin and readjust to life outside.

But when Mr. Brantley was released on parole, he got some bad news: He would not be allowed to live with his beloved Katherine. Or see her. Or even call her.

Parolees may not live behind bars, but they are far from free. Their parole officers have enormous power to dictate whom they can see, where they can go, and whether they are allowed to do perfectly legal things like have a beer. Breaking those rules can land a parolee back in jail — the decision is up to the parole officer.

Read it all from yesterday’s front page.

Posted in Law & Legal Issues, Prison/Prison Ministry, Psychology

(CT’s The Exchange) Karen Swanson–NORP Think and the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Truth: Ninety-seven percent of all cases are resolved through a plea bargain. If all cases went to trial, the criminal justice system would collapse. Pleas can be used to intimidate inmates or to get them to help with other cases. For example, a woman was offered a lighter sentence if she would be wired and placed in a dangerous situation to get information for the police. There are times when people plead guilty to a charge they did not commit so they can be released from incarceration. For them, each day increases the risk of losing their job, home, and most importantly with women, custody of their children.

One of the most infamous cases of this is Kalief Browder, who was sent to Rikers Island when he was 16 years old because he was accused of stealing a backpack. Although he never stood trial or was found guilty, he spent three years at the New York City jail complex, nearly two of them in solitary confinement. He was beaten by corrections staff and other inmates. He refused to accept a plea deal even though it would have meant his immediate release because he insisted on his innocence. Ultimately, prosecutors dropped the charge. Haunted by the trauma of his ordeal, he committed suicide at the age of 22.

As Christians, we should be NORPs, but not have NORP think when it comes to the criminal justice system. I hope you will not tune out conversations about mass incarceration. As scripture says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov.31:8-9).

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Law & Legal Issues, Prison/Prison Ministry

(Economist) Chinks of light When TED talks came to a British prison

Soaring performances of songs from “Cats” and “Les Misérables” are unusual fare for a prison. But on May 3rd an inmate at Leicester prison brought an audience to their feet with his renditions. The recital was part of a TEDx conference, a popular lecture series that had never before been held in a British jail. In the midst of a prisons crisis, with violence against inmates and officers at record levels and crippling staff shortages, the event is an encouraging example of smaller efforts to improve conditions.

On a stage covered in prisoners’ art, inmates thundered the words of Shakespeare. An officer recited his own poetry: “I could tell you tales that would make you laugh…tales that would turn your stomach, tales that would break your heart,” he intoned. Organising the event was a logistical nightmare, says Phil Novis, the governor at HMP Leicester. But the enthusiasm of all involved suggests it was worth it.

Read it all.

Posted in Art, England / UK, Music, Prison/Prison Ministry, Theatre/Drama/Plays

ABC Nightline–Oscar-Nominated '13th' Documentary's Provocative Message

Watch it all. The film is available on Netflix for those interested.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Pastoral Theology, Prison/Prison Ministry, Race/Race Relations, Theology

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Politics in General, Prison/Prison Ministry, Race/Race Relations, Theology

(NYT) A Prison Class in African Religion Attracts Students Beyond Its Walls

In many ways, the class that met here Tuesday night could be in any university in the United States. There were desks arranged in a circle to facilitate discussion. There were student presentations based on dense readings. And there was the faint buzzing from the fluorescent lights overhead.

But in other important respects, the class was anything but typical. Coils of razor wire glinted under security lights outside the window, and more than half the students wore the drab green uniforms that mark them as inmates in New York’s only maximum-security prison for women.

This was Union Theological Seminary’s course on African religions in the Americas. Six seminary students boarded a van in Manhattan over 16 weeks this fall, commuting about 35 miles north to reach the secure walls of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Part of a nationwide trend in prison education programs, it was a process that proved as educational and powerful for the graduate students as for the 10 inmates.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology, Urban/City Life and Issues

(CT) How Churches Change the Equation for Life After Prison

Two blocks from the North Carolina Capitol, a dozen women are sitting on couches in a circle. Unmarked, with dark windows and fluorescent lights overhead, the upstairs room of Raleigh’s First Presbyterian Church smells musty and damp. Alice Noell’s Job Start program is in session, and the women are here to make sense of their lives.

The women currently live in the Raleigh Correctional Center for Women, which they leave five days a week to attend Noell’s 15-week course. Noell””an energetic and passionate teacher””isn’t speaking right now. Instead, she’s invited one of her former students to address a captive audience.

All of the women, equal numbers black and white, lean in as Miea Walker walks in, waves, and finds the recliner in the center of the circle. Walker, 45, was released from prison in March 2012, a date still fresh enough for her to drop the names of wardens and guards.

“I know what it feels like,” she says. “You feel like you can’t breathe. You’re in a box all day long.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Evangelicals, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Prison/Prison Ministry, Theology

(NYT) Britain Moves to Separate Radicalized Inmates From Other Prisoners

Convicts in British prisons who preach terrorism and extreme ideology to fellow inmates will be held in high-security “specialist units,” the government announced on Monday, amid efforts to crack down on Islamic radicalization in jails.

The announcement reflects an emerging trend in Europe to isolate terrorism convicts and influential extremists from the rest of the prison population. Prisons are often regarded as potential breeding grounds for would-be terrorists, particularly for young offenders serving sentences for crimes unrelated to terrorism but who nonetheless fall under the spell of older, charismatic inmates.

Last week, Anjem Choudary, one of Britain’s best-known Islamist activists, was found guilty of inviting support for the Islamic State. He could face a lengthy prison term.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Other Faiths, Pastoral Theology, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

([London] Times) Investigation reveals Muslim inmates raised funds for ”˜extremists’

Approval was given at a senior level of the prison service for Muslim inmates in British jails to raise money for an organisation linked to the alleged funding of terror attacks against Israel.

The discovery was made by an official probe into Islamist prison radicalisation that identified widespread failings at the top of the National Offender Management Service (Noms).

The Times revealed yesterday that state-appointed Muslim chaplains at more than ten prisons distributed extremist literature that encouraged the murder of apostates and contempt for fundamental British values.

It has now emerged that prisoners in at least four jails were encouraged by chaplains to participate in sponsored fundraising activities for “inappropriate” causes.

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Other Faiths, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(W Post) Anne Applebaum–No, Iran is not ”˜opening up’

Sanctions have been lifted on Iran, and a moment of change has arrived. President Obama has called this “a unique opportunity, a window, to try to resolve important issues.” The brilliant ex-diplomat Nicholas Burns has said we are at a “potential turning point in the modern history of the Middle East.” And of course they are right. The diplomacy of the Middle East will now change, for better or for worse, forever.

But be very wary of anyone who claims anything more, and certainly be careful of anyone who claims anything more for Iran itself. President Hassan Rouhani is not Mikhail Gorbachev, and this is not a perestroika moment. Iran is not “opening up” or becoming “more Western” or somehow more liberal. Maybe Iran’s foreign minister will now pick up the phone when John Kerry calls. But other than that, the nature of the Iranian regime has not altered at all.

On the contrary, the level of repression inside the country has grown since the “moderate” Rouhani was elected in 2013. The number of death sentences has risen. In 2014, Iran carried out the largest number of executions anywhere in the world except for China. Last year, the number may have exceeded 1,000. Partly this is because Iran’s chief justice has boasted of the eradication (i.e., mass killing) of drug offenders, many of whom are juveniles or convicted on dubious evidence.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Politics in General, Prison/Prison Ministry, Psychology, Theology

(Reuters) Wife of Iran-held pastor hopes to rebuild her marriage amidst great struggle

Naghmeh Abedini is looking forward to reuniting next week with her husband, Saeed, the Iranian-American pastor freed on Saturday after more than three years in an Iranian prison.

But she’s not rushing the reunion.

In an interview at her parent’s home in Boise, Idaho on Wednesday, Abedini said that rebuilding their marriage after her husband’s imprisonment will take time.

The relationship, she said, has been strained in recent months by the publication of an email she sent to friends and supporters late last year. Her note described “physical, emotional, psychological and sexual” abuse by her husband, who she said was addicted to pornography.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Iran, Marriage & Family, Middle East, Missions, Pastoral Theology, Pornography, Prison/Prison Ministry, Psychology, Theology, Violence

Imprisoned Iranian Pastor Farshid Fathi finally released

anian Christian pastor Farshid Fathi was released on 21 December 2015 after five years in prison in Iran for his faith in Jesus Christ.

“We are deeply grateful for your faithful prayers for Farshid while he has been in prison,” Elam Ministries, whose mission is to help expand the church in the Iran region, said in a statement.

“We would like to request that you continue praying for Farshid today and in the coming weeks,” Elam said. “Please pray especially for protection, his family and his adjustment to life outside prison.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Defense, National Security, Military, Foreign Relations, Iran, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Politics in General, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture

(CC) Jason Byassee–How the documentary "Chaplains" raises the issue of ecclesiology

A chaplain’s job is to serve the spiritual needs of everyone in his or her care. A Buddhist chaplain in Oregon has to provide amplifiers for evangelical praise music, drums for Native American circles, and a priest and wafers for mass. When a chaplain for Tyson Foods insists that the job isn’t just to patch people up so they can go out and make more money for Tyson, one has to wonder: Would Tyson pay for a chaplain if the chaplain’s presence weren’t profitable in some way? Would the army, the hospital, or the prison pay for chaplains if they didn’t serve their respective causes? Shouldn’t the local church minister to its members and communities rather than outsource personnel to secular institutions?

One military chaplain in the film tells of soldiers in Iraq coming to him to ask if their souls are endangered. We can only imagine what sorts of things they’ve done in our name. He reassures them that their souls are not in danger: if they’ve followed lawful orders, the culpability for giving those orders is on the head of those who issued them. But can we be so sure? Should the church dispense such assurance so glibly? Could a chaplain who responded “I don’t know” to that question keep her job? And isn’t “I don’t know,” at least in some cases, a more truthful response?

I’m more sympathetic to prison chaplaincy. In a nation that warehouses 2.2 million people, some of the only outsiders who care about the incarcerated come from religious communities. The film follows the work of Calvary Chapel of Southeast Portland, which treats the Oregon prison almost like a campus of its church. Its members offer instant relationship, social capital, and material help when prisoners are released.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Ecclesiology, Economy, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, The U.S. Government, Theology