Does the Thought of Prison Frighten or Fascinate You?

If we were to take a poll, and ask what is the worst thing that could happen to any of us, typical responses might include death, torture, crime, divorce, sickness, accident, separation from loved ones, enslavement, or loss of home. Some of us might add imprisonment. Prison is not a pleasant subject, but, to judge by the number of books written and movies made about it, the public finds the topic fascinating.

Prison fascinates us the way any spectacle does. We are curious to see how the accused will handle themselves. Imprisonment is, after all, one of the more frightening things that can happen to humans.

In part our interest is also because each of us knows in our gut that it could be us next. Any of us could be involved in a road accident which would put us behind bars for negligent homicide. False arrests and wrongful convictions do happen. Christians who watch with alarm the increasing anti-Christian rhetoric in the West suspect that when overt persecution comes, some of us are going to go to prison for our faith.

For others, interest in prisons is humane. Jesus taught that the sheep and goats are separated on the basis of their social behavior, including prison visitation. “I was in prison and you visited me.” Consequently Christians have a long tradition of visiting prisoners, redeeming captives, and attempting to ameliorate prison conditions.

Why Are We Interested in Prisoners?
All of this does not explain why Christian History Institute is interested in prisons. The easy answer would be to say, “Prison has played a significant role in Christian history and we are about Christian history.” We would be right of course. From Peter and Paul down to our own day, bearers of the Gospel have spent a lot of time in prison. And Christians have written a good deal about their prison experiences. But the real reasons for our interest are more personal.

Christian History Institute is a small operation. Yet over its two dozen years of existence, it made significant accomplishments with a small staff and small budget. Part of its success, we believe, was owing to the prayers of prisoners. We used to issue Glimpses of people, events, life and faith from the Church Across the Ages. Some of the most avid readers of this monthly bulletin were men who had come to faith in Christ while in prison. They sought to ground themselves more in the history of God’s people while serving out their sentences, and we would mail them free copies, asking only for prayers for the institute, its staff, and ministries. We believe God heard those prayers.

Another point of personal contact has come through one of our Institute’s good friends. Robert Downing, a judge in Louisiana, has done more than sentence prisoners to jail, but visited them with the Gospel and worked with their families in his off hours. Through him we became aware of the revival in Angola State prison which has seen hundreds of prisoners in one of the toughest institutions in the world transformed by the grace of Christ.

Yet another point of personal interest lies in the fact that Dan Graves, a long time contributer to Christian History Institute worked in the prison system for almost twenty years.

Why We Built This Web Site
Okay, so we are interested in prisoners, and prison has played a significant role in Christian history. But does this warrant a web site? After all, there are many good collections of prison literature out there already. One of the best collections is Isidore Abramowitz’ thick The Great Prisoners; the First Anthology of Literature Written in Prison. And we could hardly hope to improve on Geoffrey Bould’s superb Conscience be My Guide; an Anthology of Prison Writings.

That we are interested in prisoners is one thing. That our interest should lead to a collection is another. However, this collection is different. Whereas the others contain some Christian experiences, this site focuses entirely on the Judeo-Christian experience in prison. It seems to us that it is worth observing how Christians handled this deeply adverse experience as a way of learning how to handle our own daily adversities. And so we ask, what can we learn from the Christian prison experience? How did God’s grace appear to those in prison? What makes a triumphant Christian? How can the experiences of Christian prisoners assist modern prisoners to transcend their circumstances?

This collection gives examples of a wide spectrum of prison experiences, from arrest and trial to incarceration and release. We begin with the earliest Biblical accounts of imprisonment and end in the twentieth century. The stories are fascinating. Prisons have been a breeding ground of literature; and some of the most famous writings of Western civilization took form within prison walls. We believe, then, that the excerpts and accounts that follow will be of interest to all readers, whatever their worldview, and we hope, an inspiration to all who desire to follow God no matter the consequences.

Posted by Dan Graves on . Last updated on .

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