Our friend Matthew Harper reflects on a recent thirty-day stint in solitary confinement.
Grace and Peace to you all.
Sorry I’ve been incommunicado, I spent the last thirty days in segregation. Someone had been urging our band to do the Humble Pie song “Thirty Days in the Hole,” but we put it off. I guess I should have played the song. Instead I did the thirty days.
Jens Soering, a German citizen currently serving two life sentences in Virginia, is the author of numerous articles and books in both English and German. His English books include The Convict Christ: What the Gospel Says about Criminal Justice, Church of the Second Chance: A Faith-Based Approach to Prison Reform; and The Way of the Prisoner: Breaking the Chains of Self through Centering Prayer and Practice. His latest book is his account of the events that led to his imprisonment. You can find more information on all of his books at http://jenssoering.com/publications.
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
“Relief of Judgment”
This psalm was initially a prayer for the young King Solomon when he replaced his father David on the throne. In this psalm, there’s an outline of how he is to govern the kingdom of Israel. The poor are to be rightly judged, the children of the needy are to be saved, and the oppressor needs to be broken (v. 4).These are all things that Christ exercised in his ministry on Earth. The first two come easy to followers during the holiday season and forgotten even faster when it’s over. What about breaking the oppressor in pieces?
One of the lowest experiences in my life is the day that I got found guilty in September of 2002. I had just went through an unjust legal process and just like Jeremiah, all my strength and hope was gone. I wanted to just crawl into a corner and die.
Who would’ve thought that I would still be here fourteen years later, let alone be productive for God’s sake? The verse that rings true the most in my heart is verse 22: “It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” Verse 23 goes on to say,”they are new every morning.”
I have faced many more obstacles on this track we call life and there’s one thing for sure, God is always there. When I think about all my troubles and fears and how I thought I would not make it, I realize that God had my back all along.
There’s going to be pain and there’s going to be anguish during the course of your life; but you don’t have to go through it alone. Trusting, hoping, and faithfully waiting on the LORD will get you through those hard times. If God call allow me to flourish behind concrete walls and steel bars, he can do wonders for you.
Thank you, heavenly father, your everlasting mercy and compassions are upon me daily. Please allow me to use them to bring about the praise and glory that you deserve. Amen.
INSIGHTS, 17 YEARS IN PRISON
by Matthew B. Harper
A month ago I met with two wonderful clergy, and our conversation meandered into fruitful territory. An important conversation, it was also the kind you can’t prepare for. So when our wandering words brought us to an important precipice, and I was invited to jump off, I quailed. Seventeen years of incarceration and over thinking about my crimes has led me to an untold number of insights and revelations so imagine my regret when, after being invited to share some, I failed at the task.
Apostolic Letters from Prison
In the book Ministry with Prisoners & Families: The Way Forward, Madeline McClenny-Sadler offers a “Letter to African American Churches Concerning the Saints Coming Home from Prison.” It uses “the hybrid style of a Pauline epistle and a scholarly article” as a call to action (140).
Inspired by her letter, several PrisonLectionary.net contributors took up the same task. The second comes to us from “AMN .”
In case you missed the first, you can find it here.
This sermon, by Matthew Harper, was read during a worship service at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Chesterfield, Virginia, on Sunday, August 14, 2016.
Prison is a terrible place. The purpose of prison is for it to be a terrible place. Where there are problems in our world our justice system seeks out the offenders and send us here. We are sent here to protect society, to punish us, and perhaps to give us space to repent and grow.
Prison is full of people. Each prisoner is a person full of good and bad, carrying wounds and inflicting them. We too have our hopes and dreams, as well as sorrows and regrets. Some of us are redeemed, some not, and all struggle with addictions, pride, loneliness, and sorrow. We are beautiful and amazing, and also completely messed up. We are all too human.
Continue reading the full sermon on St. David’s website here.
Psalm 71 is one of my very favorite psalms. In fact, there was a time in my life when I recited this psalm three times each night before bed, from memory. To me, this psalm speaks to the plight of not only the prisoner, but anyone who finds themselves ensnared in our criminal justice system. The first five verses alone sum up the majority of my most common prayers as a prisoner.
What person who has ever been at the business end of criminal prosecution cannot relate to verses 9 through 11? I know that whenever I read these verses I cannot help but to visualize the three prosecutors assigned to my case, sitting around a long conference room table like the Bond villains of SPECTRE, saying things to each other like, “This God-forsaken dirtbag! Let’s do whatever we have to do to put him away for as long as we can. Who can stop us?”
Every person serving an extended sentence thinks about and worries about how old he will be when or even if he is ever released. For instance, if I am forced to serve all of my current sentence, I will be over 65 when I am paroled What sort of life will I have left? How will an old used up ex-con ever find gainful employment? Even if I am somehow able to keep myself up to date on the current technologies and the swiftly changing demands of contemporary employers, what sort of physical condition will I be in after so long a period of forced inactivity, eating sub-nutritious foods, under sub par healthcare? Most at that age would be unable to get out of bed and get around to go to work.
What of my other needs? What sort of family support can I expect to still have? Will anyone even still be living? These thoughts are constant stressors that plague the minds of those subjected to long-term incarceration. Countless times I have prayed that the Almighty will not forsake me in my old age when I am grey-headed. Every incarcerated believer knows that our Heavenly Father is our only means of support we can be sure of. Thankfully, He is also the only means of support anyone ever needs.
Apostolic Letters from Prison
In the book Ministry with Prisoners & Families: The Way Forward, Madeline McClenny-Sadler writes
“What would the apostle Paul do if he heard about the mistreatment of brothers and sisters who return to our congregations and communities after being released from prison? I think we know exactly what Paul would do. Paul would write a letter!” (140)
Thus, McClenny-Sadler offers a “Letter to African American Churches Concerning the Saints Coming Home from Prison.” It uses “the hybrid style of a Pauline epistle and a scholarly article” as a call to action (ibid.)
Inspired by her letter, several PrisonLectionary.net contributors take up the same task. The first comes to us from “EB .”