Those in prison
‘Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.’
Isaiah 1:17 (NIVUK)
My phone rang – a withheld number – and I answered. The next words I had never heard before. I was going to hear them many more times in subsequent months: ‘You are receiving a call from Her Majesty’s Prison, do you wish to take the call?’
The panicked voice of my friend came down the phone. The circumstances around her arrest were unclear at this time, but what was clear was she needed help as she entered surroundings that were unfamiliar to her. Worse, she was removed from her children.
We are told in Isaiah to take up the cause of the fatherless and plead the case of the widow. It’s easy to understand why because these people are helpless in their plight, and are in a situation not of their own making. To defend the oppressed takes more thought. Why are they oppressed? If in prison, surely that’s their wrongdoing, a situation of their creation, consequences they are reaping?
However in Hebrews 13:3 (ESV) there is a clearer instruction: ‘Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them…’
The prison system includes remand, through to court and sentencing. The sense of self is removed. Clothes are replaced with uniforms. Phone calls are reliant on money, which is often reliant on outside help. Access to fresh contact lenses costs money, often reliant again on outside help. Even the choice of underwear requires money and therefore is often reliant on outside help.
When my husband and I visited our friend during the months of her imprisonment, aggression in the prison was palpable. It was there in physical forms: a black eye, a split lip, a smashed glass pane. It was in the tension felt when negotiating the high security equipment similar to those in airports.
According to the Prison Reform Trust,1 in London 26% of women and 16% of men said they had received treatment for a mental health problem in the year before their custody. And whilst in prison 25% of women and 15% of men reported symptoms indicative of psychosis. The rate among the general public is about 4%.
In this world, where success and ambition is craved, we are taught to keep our distance from things deemed unsavoury. Is this what Jesus did? You may be familiar with the quote ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ Is it possible that we should be one of the top five people of someone else who has fallen on hard times?
Dear Father, help us to be more like your son, give us the ability to identify strongly with the weak, the helpless, and the outcast. Help us to have the courage to show compassion to those who are imprisoned, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
Study by Rachel Montgomery
About the writer:
Rachel Montgomery is the Communications Coordinator for Grace Communion International UK & Ireland. She is also a Deaconess in the Edinburgh congregation.
Gilmerton New Church
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