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24
Sat, Sep

May the Force Be with You, the Incarcerated

JUST SAYIN’-The other day I met a minister who is the officiant of the church where our meeting was being held.  Pastor Mark Rasbach spoke before the group and seemed so progressive that I felt I needed to speak with him after the conference. 

What struck me was his commitment to a prison program that he founded (with the help of others) a few years back.  He spoke passionately about his prison project which uses a Bible about which I had never heard—The Recovery Devotional Bible, New International Version (printed by Zondervan Press).  Though costly to publish in paperback (prisons don’t allow hardback), it is free to the incarcerated, and boy , are these inmates excited about a Bible whose style has really contributed to changing their lives. 

The Recovery Bible is styled after the 12-step programs with which we are perhaps more familiar—12 steps that alcoholics, drug addicts, and gamblers often utilize during their life-long recovery and rehabilitation. 

This book is not judgmental and offers the concept that change is possible—that it is never too late to turn yourself around (even for people who have committed unimaginable crimes).  It offers hope for inmates who have otherwise given up and sometimes seek suicide as a way to assuage their psychological and emotional suffering. 

The 12 steps is a “distillation of Biblical teaching” that focuses on a number of specific topics to which the readers can relate—holding on to anger, feeling out of control, dealing with a variety of addictions, harboring thoughts of self-hatred, the inability to interact with others in a positive way. 

Importantly, this Bible is very different from the traditional ones.  It appears more like a textbook—but one that is relatable to prisoners who no longer want to be part of prison gangs or be involved in prison crimes.  There are notes in the margins, explanations about history, interpretations of outdated words, valuable cross-references, enlightening footnotes, helpful charts and maps to understand much better such concepts as distances and other relationships in Old Palestine.  

It reminds me of an annotated book, The Torah, A Commentary, that is older but is set up in much the same way as the Recovery Bible except that the latter is easier to read and requires less erudition.  This Bible is accessible to people who have achieved any level of education and is conducive to helping the reader interpret and analyze the verses and apply them in inmate efforts to abandon a criminal way of thinking. 

I don’t think one has to be religious to learn from the “graceful” teachings of the contents of this teaching Bible.  What is most important is how efficacious the guidelines are and for how long the results will last.

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I have had the opportunity to read some of the letters from inmates requesting this book for themselves or for friends in prison or family members outside.  Their words are very touching and often full of insight.  They have learned how to incorporate the character studies from Bible stories into real-life situations, many of which they have themselves experienced.  The stories, however, do not stand on their own—there are guides to learning how to accept responsibility for their misdeeds and to learn how to reverse the impulses which motivated them to engage in the unlawful activities which landed them in prison in the first place. 

Below you will find some of the insights gained by prisoners from using this work: 

“I wish I had a Bible that I could understand … In (the Recovery Bible) I can find myself relating. . .and being able to understand.  How awesome!” 

“The meditations … help me be at peace in the present and it also helps me see a better future.” 

“The Bible has become influential in my life (for the good).” 

“There are many who won’t give prisoners the time of day, but I can see that (there are people) that really care. . . .The Bible has literally been a life saver.” 

“When you use drugs, you don’t feel the pain because your emotions just turn off … I felt unwanted and unloved [which led me to drugs to blot out my feelings].” 

Since prison is supposed to be about rehabilitation, anything that works should be welcomed and lauded.  Even if prisoners are lifers, they can still be productive (I always remember how much was accomplished by The Birdman of Alcatraz).  They can be role models for others who want to turn their lives around.  They can teach group sessions about recognizing the causes and effects of their criminal actions.  They can work with at-risk students (who are invited to prison) in an effort to get to them before it is too late (and sometimes even tragedies such as subsequent murders of these very students—which has happened--can teach meaningful, valuable, and relatable lessons). 

I work with many of the formerly incarcerated and am always so impressed by how productive even the worst of criminals have become, how they have evolved into people worthy of emulation.  We need to reach out to such people to offer second chances and not to castigate them by labeling them cruelly for the rest of their lives.  Otherwise, what is the point of paying for your crimes if the perpetrator is never forgiven upon release?  Prison is about rehabilitation, after all—the other side of which is compassion and understanding. 

Just sayin’.

 

For more information: 

 

(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Alliance. Jenkins has written A Quick-and-Easy Reference to Correct Grammar and Composition, Leticia in Her Wedding Dress and Other Poems, and Vignettes for Understanding Literary and Related Concepts.  She also writes for CityWatch. Views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of CityWatch.)  

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 19

Pub: Mar 6, 2015