This weekend I visited a Virginia state prison along with several other Prison Fellowship/BreakPoint interns. Having been there once before, I was familiar with the prison by the river on state farmland and the reentry program we would be sitting in on. Since my visit last summer, rarely has a day passed without my mind reflecting back to the prisoners and the hope that gleamed from them.
I had expected the day to be difficult, filled despair because of the reality of a life behind bars, separated from loved ones and society. But how the Lord reminded me that he has not forgotten the prisoner! Sitting amongst the prisoners during Bible study, I was struck by how normal the setting seemed. Because we have a common bond in Christ, they were not “the prisoners” and we were not “the interns.” Instead, we learned from one another’s journey and faith.
This particular prison allows prisoners to take part in farming, horse caretaking, and an adopt-a-dog program. I can’t claim to know the morale of every prisoner or employee at this prison, but I was impressed by those I was fortunate to come in contact with. One guard actually spoke highly of many of the prisoners and shared that he viewed his job as to “make them better men for when they leave.” His view is surprisingly hopeful, compared to the common idea that prisoners are better off behind bars as long as possible and are somehow less than human. Even those who have been accused and found guilty of breaking the law are indeed still human beings.
I was encouraged by this prison that views their inmates as men to be restored rather than as the worst of the worst. At the end of our time together we stood in a circle, interns and prisoners hand in hand, as one inmate prayed for our efforts as interns and for their lives in prison and beyond. Even behind prison bars there is hope.