The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor.
– Luke 4:18-19
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
– Hebrews 13:3
In my first year in seminary, I had the privilege of serving as a chaplain in a youth prison. Every week my three female classmates and I would walk through the electronic doors, present our identification to be held up front, hand our keys and our cell phones to the people in the entryway and go through a series of doors that locked loudly behind us to wait for the kids to be escorted to us in the library. There, we sat around and mostly talked. We colored and wrote and read and dreamed. We did trust-building activities and tried our hand at meditation. We painted the girls’ fingernails. We painted collages. We sometimes brought tiny treats, like fun-size Snickers bars or individual bags of popcorn. We prayed for them, and they prayed for us. They kept track of our big test anxieties and we kept track of their court appointments. It is the only time I have ever been in a prison. But I grew up thinking about them.
My dad was a criminal defense attorney. I used to ride in his car and play with the badge he kept in the glove box that entitled him to go see his clients. I remember getting collect calls from his clients on our home phone. My dad never shied away from telling us what he did or why he did it. Not everyone was guilty, even guilty people were entitled to a defense, prison is terrible and we should try to keep people out of it. I don’t remember a time I didn’t know what prison was or what it was for. So, when I started working in a prison I told my children about it. I told them how sad it was, and how good the kiddos I was working with were. I told them that every single person I came in contact with was just a kid who had been failed by the adults around him. I told them how the teenage boys were hungry because they didn’t get snacks on the weekends. I told them how the teenage girls could turn any art supply I brought into the place into makeup.
With the pandemic, and staying in the house all the time I have heard more of my girls pretend play. At 9 and 10 it is still robust and creative, but there is a thread of it I have begun to notice. They can’t stop talking about prisons, about police, about the bad guy going to jail. I have noticed that even though we talk about how bad prisons are, even in their imaginary spaces they still exist. At not yet teens my girls cannot imagine a world without prisons, a world where everyone is free. It makes me realize how much I need Jesus, and his vision for the world.
I don’t know what a world without prisons, where all the captives are set free looks like either. While there are actual prisoners in actual prisons that need to be set free, I think Jesus also came to set us free from the idea of prison. Jesus came as a baby when we were expecting a king. Jesus came not just to set those who are unjustly imprisoned free, but to set us free from the idea of prison. Jesus came not as a conqueror, but as a liberated. For everyone, even for a middle-class girl with middle-class daughters who desperately need to be invited into a world where the imagination goes beyond police and prisons. Where everyone is free indeed.
Abby Norman is a writer, blogger, speaker, and licensed local pastor in the United Methodist Church. Her writing has been featured in Huffington Post, SheLoves Magazine, and The Mudroom. Abby lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her college sweetheart, two daughters, and a very bad dog.