Get your guys talking about their prison stay. You will hear words like “sad,” ‘sorry,” “sick.” There are guys who experience “real fear,” some who suddenly know they are “frail” and many, many who express their “frustration.”
One descriptive word they use most often is “lonely.” They may be in a cell block with fifty men. They definitely have precious little privacy. Their personal space is less than an old phone booth, for those who remember phone booths.
They may be counted as many as six times a day. For all the counting, no one makes them feel they count. They are like a zero in mathematics. They occupy a space, but bring no personal value to that space. They really only count if they are not there to be counted. Then they get some attention.
Loneliness occurs when one is in unintended solitude for a long period of time. A man can feel lonely when he has no one to defend, or a woman when she has no one to nurture. Men and women feel lonely when forced to live in an artificial environment. There is no environment more artificial, no set of relationships less companionable than a prison term.
Our men and women experience anxiety when they come out of the surreal environment of the prison yard to the family atmosphere of our campuses. We watch men and women go through near panic attacks when they see their room, which has walls, and their bed, which is much more than a cot with a thin mattress. The feel of air conditioning in the summer and heat in the winter makes some parolees shiver, regardless of the weather.
The early Christian church grew robustly because it included all types of people. One of the bigger adjustments must have been the assimilation of slaves and slave owners. The beloved pastor, James, not only recognized the difference between owner and owned, but actually forbade churches to honor the rich over the poor. The language he used to describe real religion (to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction and to forget them not. but to take note of them), echoes the sentiment of the Christ, who tells His listeners to keep careful love over the least of persons. Since the USA incarcerates so many of its citizens and since the act of incarceration stigmatizes one for a life time, there is an opportunity to grow the Church nationally and globally, just by obedience to the New Testament teaching.
In short, we have the opportunity to make the lonely less lonely.