The Plight of the Prisoner, The Call of the Church

By Amy Williams, certified Gang Intervention Specialist


What an exciting time to be involved in the movement to end mass incarceration and dismantle the School-to-Prison pipeline! With high-profile attention and legislative changes being made, we have an incredible opportunity to be part of the movement that reflects the redemptive heart and mission of God concerning the prisoner. There have been many on the front lines and behind the scenes fighting for fair treatment and justice for the prisoner and returning citizen for decades now. They have helped set the foundation for a time such as this, when momentum is quickly gaining strength. Now is the time to ask God, “What would you have me, my church and my community do to be a part of Your mission to fight injustice, advocate on behalf of the inmate for fair treatment, minister to those in dark places in the system and help returning citizens on their journey to become healthy, productive citizens?”

This is my daily question. I have the privilege of walking through life with many incarcerated youth and young adults. The stories I could tell of unfair treatment, prison conditions and the mental toll it takes (only making many of them relive or go deeper into their trauma) would shock and anger you. Though some of my youth ended up there for bad decisions they made, the way they are treated and seen by many prison staff (and ignored largely by the Church) deeply hurts and saddens me. It must break God’s heart too.

As I travel across the country teaching and speaking on the issue of mass incarceration, the one comment I hear the most is (summarized), “But I don’t know anyone in prison and probably never will. It’s not my day-to-day reality. I care that this is happening, but what am I supposed to do?” My response: “Something. Anything. Do you know a starving child in Africa? Or a refugee in Somalia? And yet, we still give money, adopt or send supplies to them. Well, these inmates are in the U.S. and they need us too. It is a mandate of Scripture, so God must want us all to do something.” The Word says:

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”(Heb 13:3)
The Church is more closely involved with the prisoner than we recognize, considering the one we worship was a prisoner himself. Jesus understands the plight of the prisoner. If Jesus were still incarcerated today, what would you do for Him?

‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me. (Matthew 25:39-40)
I believe two of the most powerful things we can do as we seek God for our place in this mission is: educate each other and pray. The Christian Community Development (CCDA) Mass Incarceration Task Force has had the incredible privilege to engage churches and communities across the country in educating them on the issue through our Reel Justice Film Festivals, workshops and trainings, and authoring many blogs and articles.

For the past 3 years we have harnessed the collective power of prayer across the country in our annual Locked-In-Solidarity prayer events. As we prepare for our fourth year, we are encouraged by the involvement of churches to gather together and pray for the inmates, families, legislators and those doing the work. It has been a powerful time of sharing stories, learning about the issue of mass incarceration and conditions of the prison system, and an opportunity to pray on behalf of the many that don’t have a voice. In addition to praying and sharing stories, we will also bring these stories to those in positions of power who can be a part of the systemic changes we advocate for.

  • It is a time to educate the Church about what is happening in the Criminal Justice System.
  • It is a time to open our eyes and see what is happening around us and how it is impacting our country.
  • It is a time to sit, listen and fervently seek God about what He would have us do as individuals and as a Body

There are many problems and many solutions but One God who knows and sees all––the One God that sees value, worth and purpose in every inmate. Is this not where the church can play a huge role in the lives and families of inmates and returning citizens? The Church is a place of second chances, grace, redemption and forgiveness, a family that embraces others with His love. It’s time to engage, Church. It’s time.

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