Remember the Prisoners
Most of the people in our churches today have little acquaintance with the prison population of the US. That population now exceeds 2.2 million in state and local jails and about 200,000 in federal prisons. That population continues to grow for many reasons. One is the decline of godly culture. The secularization of government (including their school systems) plus the ineffectiveness of Christian churches combines to find the inability to combat a rising crime rate.
Another major reason is the approach of the prison system to correct or reform those who are incarcerated. Most of the people in the system are not even evaluated, much less is there an effort to create a plan of improvement. The statistics show the recidivism rate is nearly 70% within three years (i.e., those who return to prison for another crime.)
Still another reason is the corruption of laws and processes. Laws are misapplied and actions which are not criminal in nature are suddenly made to be crimes. One example of that is prosecuting protestors of abortion clinics under racketeering laws. Add to that the prosecutors, judges, and juries who through ignorance or lack of character, convict innocent people, and the problem is greatly magnified.
So why would Hebrews 13:3 instruct us to “remember the prisoners, “as though in prison with them, and those who are ill treated since you yourselves also are in the body?”
Now that I’ve gained a limited view, let me share these insights:
There are a lot of innocent people in prison. “The Innocence Project” has been able to identify a number of these and get them freed, sometimes after thirty years in prison. My personal assessment is that at least 30% of the non-drug cases have innocent men in prison. Without “remember the prisoners” you would probably not know that.
People in prison are often forgotten. The longer someone is in prison, the fewer contacts they have. I am acquainted with prisoners who have not received a single piece of personal mail, a phone call or a visit in years. Those are the ones who find it difficult when they are released and soon return to prison.
God is present in prisons. People truly find God and see transformation. For some, prison saves them from self-destruction. The church has an important role to play in their redemption back into society but usually drops the ball.
The phrase “as though in prison with them” requires that we gain understanding, and then with prayer and other processes, meet their needs. And the writer was also including “those who are ill treated” in our care circles. When we fail to keep these lessons, we are damaging the “body of Christ”. Reread Matthew 25:31-46 and evaluate your plans for the New Year. God may have some special assignments for you.