"Why Are We in Prison?" by Gary Hardy, a prisoner in Florence, AZ
Why are you, or why were you in prison, is one of the most challenging questions a prisoner or former prisoner must face. It is a question which is asked not only by others, but one which each prisoner must ask - and answer - themselves. Simplistically, each question may easily be answered by stating the nature of the offense for which they are imprisoned; however, life changing events are rarely as simple as they appear. Therefore, to obtain a better understanding of why someone is in prison, perhaps we should consider a different view, by looking through the eyes of a prisoner. Welcome to my world.
In the "Chronicles of Narnia", C. S. Lewis wrote, "What you see and hear depends a great deal on where you stand, and what sort of person you are." In other words, how we view things in this life depends on who we are and where we stand in our present circumstances. For example, once the natural and legal consequences of our sins and criminal acts led us to prison, how do we then view such things? Is imprisonment purely an act of man, or a scheme of the enemy, or are we being rescued and delivered by the mighty hand of a loving and merciful God? Do we view prison as punishment, as discipline and correction, or as an opportunity to grow and serve?
Prison is naturally viewed as a place of punishment, and for those who choose to see and believe they are being punished, prison remains a difficult and dreadful place. However, for a child of God, who has been saved through faith in Jesus Christ, (Eph. 2:8) prison is not a place of such punishment. For Jesus took the punishment which was due us upon himself when He died upon the cross for our sins. So for the believer, since prison is not a place of punishment, there must be a greater purpose.
Believers and even unbelievers may view prison as a place of discipline and as an opportunity for correction. There is great value and blessing for those who learn to patiently receive and endure such discipline; for the purpose of discipline is to help conform the one being disciplined into the image of Christ and to help fulfill God's purpose in their lives. (Rom. 8:28-29)
Prisoners who see their circumstances only as a place of punishment, or even just as our Father's loving discipline may yet miss out on God's intended purpose. Those who choose to believe they are being punished often have unbroken hearts and are clinging to worthless idols. Without brokenness, humility, or worshipping the One True God, prison may well appear to be a place of punishment from which one may seek to escape. However, those who choose to believe they are being disciplined have a better, yet incomplete view. For while discipline may be painful in the present, it produces in the one being disciplined, "the peaceable fruit of righteousness." (Heb. 12:11) Why would God use loving discipline to bring forth "peaceable fruit of righteousness?"
What if prison is more than a just punishment in a worldly view, and more than discipline and correction in a spiritual view? What if prison is a place beyond punishment, or discipline, or correction, but a place of deliverance where God is working all things together for good for those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose? (Rom. 8:28) What if prison - which the world sees as a wilderness of punishment - is actually a place where God has brought us - just as He brought Israel out of Egypt, and where Jesus Christ is calling us; just as He called His disciples - not to surrender, but to submit our lives to His authority and to follow Him wherever He leads?
For when we choose to follow Him, instead of seeking our own desires, we are given authority; we are given power; we are given grace; and we are given peace.
David recognized the authority, power, grace, and peace of God in spite of his circumstances when he wrote,
"I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord. Be of good courage and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord." (Ps. 27:13-14 NKJV)
But of Israel in the wilderness, the Psalmist wrote, "They (Israel) soon forgot His works. They did not wait for His counsel, but lusted exceedingly in the desert, and He gave them their requests, but He send leanness to their souls." (Ps. 106:13-15 NKJV)
So the question becomes, is prison a place a punishment, of discipline, or a place of deliverance? Prisoners who love God above all else, and are the called according to His purpose are being conformed to the image of our Savior, Jesus Christ, for His purpose and for His glory. Therefore, prison is not always a place of punishment, not even a place of discipline and correction, but a place where one is given an opportunity to grow and serve.
For what you see and hear and believe depends a great deal on where you stand; and whether you believe prison is a place of punishment, or discipline and correction, or deliverance and opportunity - it is exactly what you say.
The way to freedom in prison is not through the gate, but through learning from the Psalms to,
"Trust in the Lord and do good,
Dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness,
Delight yourself in the Lord,
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your justice as the noon day.
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him,
Do not fret because of the man who prospers in his way,
because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass,
Cease from anger and forsake wrath,
Do not fret, it only causes harm."
(Ps. 37:3-8 NKJV)
I have been in the system since 2005. There were times I thought prison was a place of punishment; and it was. There were times I thought it was a place of discipline and correction, and it was and still is. However, I am learning to see prison differently, as a place where all who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, and who love God are the chosen and called according to His purpose. In some cases we are being disciplined and corrected; however, such discipline is not without purpose, but that we shall be delivered from the power of sin even as we have been delivered from the penalty of sin, so that through the Holy Spirit we shall be witnesses to Jesus Christ in prison and unto the world.
Why are you here?
© 2014 by Gary W. Hardy
Used by permission.
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