By Johnny Allen
I think there are very few topics that dominate the news any more than crime and punishment. And look at our TV programs – Law & Order, CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, etc. What’s sad is the negative effect, the characterization, the labeling of men and women in prison. No wonder our attitudes about the guilty have fallen into some understandable categories. If it’s all you hear and see – how bad they are – that’s what you will tend to believe. People in prison have incurred the wrath of this stereotype, that they are no good and should simply never be seen or heard from again. But it’s important to remember that there are NO victimless crimes. Even for those who’ve committed these crimes…they are still suffering from shame, estranged relationships and even financial ruin. They have lost loved ones, their property, even their very lives…or the will to live at all.
I want to talk a minute about a life – a story – that begins in a deep hole. Those who have committed crimes, everything from low level drug use, to fraud, to sexual assault and even murder. Like passing a horrible car accident, we sometimes find it difficult not to look into the carnage, the ugliness and shake our heads. Yet it is necessary to look at all the darkness that those in prison have been part of because that is where Jesus Himself has descended to the liberate the captives. Jesus came to a very dark, broken, hopeless, helpless time in my life to set me free.
Please let me be clear, I intend not to take anything away from the victims of a crime. I can’t describe how horrible I have felt for the life I lived. But the truth is, as much as I would want to…the past simply cannot be changed. The good news is this – the future can be!
I want to talk of our God, who reaches into the ashes, the darkness, the broken and hopelessness and redeems the unredeemable. While we live with a system that makes it hard for authentic victim/offender reconciliation because of victim (no contact) laws, the truth is that most repentant offenders strongly desire to make things right. We (the Sing for the King team) hear their cries week in and week out.
I thought about how Jesus views the incarcerated, one scripture that has helped me gain freedom from my past and that would help you understand more about the work going on in prison is the parable of the prodigal son. We tend to look at how the son exploited his father’s wealth and came to his senses in a pig sty (or prison – in the case we are taking up today) of his own making. This describes a lot of the offenders we visit – the drugs, the alcohol, the behaviors are given time to leave our systems, our minds start to clear, our thinking gets better and we see our errors. But that’s only part of the story…there are many outside the prisons, the morally upright, that are just as lost. They have fallen for the deception that they have everything right and are not in need of God’s grace. Yet by the end of the parable, who stands outside the party, unwilling to accept the brother whom the father has restored? This happens all too often. Again…I take nothing from the victims.
The toughest questions raised by the life and times of people in the correctional system deal with how deep does God’s grace really go? Does He really forgive that? And now for us, am I in need of that same grace? How should I respond to someone who has done horrible things? What does God want me to see about His capacity to love, forgive, and save?
Our prisons collect society’s worst. I was one of them. We tell them they are failures and no longer welcome in civil society, even after they are released. Yet God is at work in the cell blocks, in the yards, in the chapels, in the isolation chambers, in the gangs, and in the hearts of sinners….just like us…
I don’t condone violence, drugs, or any criminal activity, it’s horrendous what I and the others behind the razor wire have done. The hope I want to leave you with is this simple – Johnny Allen ONCE WAS a drug dealer, addict, etc, etc, etc. The only reason I am not that today is because I had the opportunity when I was incarcerated – when I was hopeless, broken, and lost – to hear about and receive Jesus into my life. This is what Jesus did – I wasn’t reeducated, rehabilitated or reformed – I was recreated by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! On February 24, 2007 inside a maximum security prison, my life was forever changed! This same life change is available and will happen for any man or woman who will surrender to Jesus. What Jesus has asked James, Christy, and I to do is to simply introduce the men and women in prison to Jesus and then He does the rest.
To all of you who have come along side us either financially, prayerfully, or shared your time during a prison service or event – Thank you…your support means so much, to us and those inside the razor wire.