Two different letters from two different Manna House guests doing time in prison arrived together in my mail today. And that seemed appropriate.
Both just went before the Parole Board. Both were denied parole. Both remain unfailingly hopeful that when they get out things will be different in their lives. Both are grateful for the support they get from Manna House. Both asked to be remembered at prayer when we open at Manna House each day. Both seemed more concerned about how Manna House is doing than about themselves.
“Could I send those books you sent back to you? I’m through with them and so I thought you could put them on the shelf at Manna House.”
“Please lift me up in the morning prayer at Manna House.”
“So how is Manna House and how is everything there going?”
“I got the money for my shoes. I will go home with something on my feet. Thank you for everything you did for me. I couldn’t have did this time without Manna House and God.”
“Tell everyone at the Manna House that I said hello.”
I am thankful for these letters from the incarcerated Christ. You might recall that Jesus identified with those imprisoned when he said, “I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:31-40). Christ is crucified daily in our jails and prisons. How we treat prisoners is how we treat Christ. Imagine if all the people who claim the name “Christian” really put into practice Jesus’ identification with those behind bars! It might stop the sick jokes about rape in prison, or it could end the death penalty, or put out of business all of the privatized prisons making money off of human enslavement. It might at least improve the food, the health care, and the educational opportunities for prisoners.
I am thankful that Manna House hospitality can sometimes extend to our guests who end up behind bars. On occasion we visit. But mostly we try to offer what limited support we can with money, and sending books, and letters. We also support other jail ministries like “Grace Place.” And we work for changes in the criminal justice system that would treat the incarcerated Christ with basic human dignity.
Jail or prison is a fairly common experience for those who are housing deprived. A recent national study on “Jail incarceration, homelessness, and mental health” revealed that those deprived of housing make up 15.3% of the U.S. jail population. Homelessness is 7.5 to 11.3 times more common among jail inmates than in the general population. The study found that homelessness and incarceration appear to increase the risk of each other, and those factors are also influenced by mental illness, substance abuse, and “disadvantageous socio-demographic characteristics.” Seen through faith eyes this study reveals that jails and the streets intersect to form the cross of Christ.
Basic to following Jesus is to live the resurrection. Jesus lived the resurrection; that is why he was crucified. Living the resurrection means to live in resistance to the powers of sin and death, the powers that crucify, that imprison, that make people hungry, thirsty, strangers, without shelter. Christ calls from the streets and from prisons and jails, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God, of course, listened to Jesus and overturned his death sentence, raising him from the dead. Do we?