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The Anabaptist Prison

September 16th, 2010 by isaac · 5 Comments

I’ve been spending time in prison over the past couple years. I put together my inconclusive thoughts about my experience in forming friendships with inmates. The result is an essay that was published earlier this year: “The Anabaptist Prison,” Conrad Grebel Review, vol. 28 no. 1 (Winter 2010). Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of my reflection:

On Tuesday nights some of us from church drive fifteen miles down Interstate 40 to the Orange County Correctional Facility, a men’s prison. I leave my cell phone and all other contraband in my car, and walk over to the guards at the gate. After they check my ID card, the prison guards admit me into the dark world behind the chain-linked fence lined with razored wire. We are led to the dining hall—white walls, linoleum floors, circular tables with chairs. A voice from a loud speaker gives permission for inmates to enter the dinning hall where visitors have assembled. I find a few prisoners sitting at a table and ask if I can join them for a conversation. Sometimes we talk about the latest college basketball game—UNC beat Duke, again. Sometimes they share news about their family on the outside—a daughter in trouble at school, a son finally graduating. Sometimes they tell me what God is doing in their lives—an experience of grace, a new insight from the Bible. And sometimes we just sit there with nothing much to say; our words come to an end and all we have to offer is our silent presence. When the hour is up, we form a big circle—inmates and visitors hold hands and pray. We become brothers in Christ, praying to our Father in heaven, for God’s kingdom to come, “on earth as it is in heaven…”
When I’m with them, I can’t help but pray that prayer like I really mean it. The familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer come alive as I hear the profound conviction and utter desperation in their voices. The inmates inflect our routine Christian prayer with cries for mercy, for redemption, for liberation, for reconciliation, for salvation. And with their hands in mine, and mine in theirs, I can’t help but echo their conviction and desperation; I can’t help but want what they want: for the kingdom of heaven to crush the chain-linked fence and reach into all our hearts, and set us free. In prison I can hear 500-year-old whispers from Anabaptist graves—the prayers of the saints—who still cry out to God in unison for a re-formed world, a world remade. When I pray the Lord’s Prayer with my friends in prison, our voices reverberate with the voices of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists, the faithful commoners who dreamed of God’s future: “that this earthly life swings up into heaven,” as one preacher taught them to pray and dream

As far as I can tell, my essay is not available online. But if you want to read it and don’t have access to a hard copy of the journal, post a comment below and I’ll send it to you.

Tags: church life · current events · published · race & ethnicity · theology

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 mshedden // Sep 16, 2010 at 10:31 am

    Since I make it a point to read everything you write so I can be expert on your theological devolpment when your famous send it over!

  • 2 isaac // Sep 17, 2010 at 5:51 am

    Matt, thanks for your interest—and your exaggerated, yet kind, words.

    I’d be interested to hear what you think of my reflections on prison.

  • 3 Amy // Oct 1, 2010 at 11:04 am

    I’d love to read the full piece.

  • 4 isaac // Oct 5, 2010 at 5:44 am

    Hi Amy, thanks for your interest. I just emailed it to you. Let me know if it doesn’t work.


  • 5 Pastor K-Mart // Nov 28, 2011 at 2:59 am


    Please send me the article in its entirety. I’ve just stumbled across your writings and the conversations that follow, and I must say, “They are pretty interesting and informative.” Thank you all for allowing me to join in with regards to reading the articles. I do not have a comment yet, but when led to do so I definitely will.

    I am impressed that this level of dialogue takes place electronically considering all of the other things that go on via email/internet. Keep up the good work, and let’s continue to talk about the many issues that our communities, ethnicities, and places of worship face on a daily basis. God Bless.