If prison walls could talk . . . you would hear stories as unique as all of the individuals who have resided therein. The walls of Long Kesh prison in Northern Ireland would have tales of hunger strikes and protests as IRA prisoners demanded to be treated as political prisoners and refused to put on prison garb, remaining naked in cold cells. Other prisons have equally horrific tales of mistreatment and harsh conditions.
Prisons may be seedbeds for revolutions, places of punishment, or even places of spiritual growth. Martin Luther King Jr and Ghandi both used jail time to strengthen their non-violent revolutions. For some, the enforced quiet and isolation from the rest of the world can bring them to reflect on their life and make changes for the better. For others, it is a school for crime as prisoners meet and exchange information and come out hardened criminals rather than rehabilitated.
The reason for being in prison can make a difference to the outcome. Those entering prison for acts of civil disobedience find the experience different from those sent to prison for robbery or murder, though they may be thrown into the general population with these offenders. Those thrown into prison for their beliefs are sustained by those beliefs. They can experience a freedom within prison walls not experienced by others on the outside.
Sometimes harsher than physical walls are the prisons of our own making. Some may be imprisoned by hatred, bitterness, anger, jealousy or fear. All take away our freedom and keep us from living full lives. Others are trapped in the prison of drug addiction or other self-destructive habits.
Whatever your experience of prison life, it is not a place we want to be.
The writer of Psalm 142 finds himself in this place. He is in dire straits, persecuted and abandoned by all who know him. “In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me, I look to the right and watch, but there is none who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me, no man cares for me.” (3b-4) “Deliver me from my persecutors; for they are too strong for me! Bring me out of my prison, that I may give thanks to your name!” (6b-7a)
We don’t know what he did to deserve such treatment. He cries out to God for help. “I cry with my voice to the Lord, with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him. I tell my troubles before him.” (1-2) “I cry to you, O Lord; I say, you are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living. Give heed to my cry for I am brought very low!” (5-6a)
He ends, confident that God hears him. “The righteous will surround me; for you will deal bountifully with me.” (7b) From within prison walls, the writer turns to God.
Whatever prison we may be experiencing, whether of our own making or brought on by poor choices, we have a choice how we will spend our time. We may grow harder and move farther away from others and God, or we may use the time to grow closer to your God.
The choice is ours.
What has been your experience of prison?