In this cell-space you can read a passage from the chapter on 'Punishment and Liberation' from our book Unreconciled? In this book we look at the way prisons say something about the society we live in and reflect back on the kinds of lives we want for ourselves and our children.
Many, perhaps most people, have never been inside a prison or know anyone inside one. So what if it happened in your family? What do you suppose you would do if you had to go down to the police station, support someone through trial, and what would happen if a family member went to prison? How do you suppose they would feel on release?
To help start thinking about those things, we consider the case of Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years as a political prisoner. We also include an article about Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo for you to consider.
Anne Richards (Mission Theology Advisory Group)
"When were you in prison and we did not visit you?" (Matthew 25.39)
In A Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela reflected that no one understands a country until they have seen inside its prisons. He was able to speak with authority, having been imprisoned for 27 years for supporting the anti-apartheid cause. His experience did not cause him to be consumed with bitterness, but his liberation from prison brought words which amazed everyone. Desmond Tutu writes:
"Nelson Mandela did not emerge from prison spewing words of hatred and avenge. He amazed us all by his heroic embodiment of reconciliation and forgiveness. No one could have accused him of speaking glibly and facilely about forgiveness and reconciliation."
Nelson Mandela also went on to say that the test of a country is how it treats its lowest citizens. How we should treat those with no power and status around us is something which Jesus teaches us by word and deed. Yet if there is a clearly identified community of the Unreconciled, the prison population is surely an obvious example.
In an imperfect world, we have to recognise that some people hurt others and commit crimes. When they do, we have a justice system that deprives people of their liberty and locks them away from the people they have hurt and the people that they might further hurt. Consequently we have to recognise and accept that we live in a punitive society.
To achieve a sentence which properly fits the crime is the measure of 'justice'. Typically, in the media, people who have been affected by terrible crime are asked for their reaction to sentencing and whether justice has been done. Often the prevailing feeling is that no sentence or punishment is enough to 'pay for' a human life.'
Unreconciled? (CTBI: 2011) p68
Some Questions to think about:
- What do you imagine sustained Nelson Mandela while he was in prison?
- What do you make of his idea that the 'test' of a country is how it treats its prisoners?
- What do you know about our own prison system?
- Can you think of any people who have been sent to prison who have been unjustly punished?
- Can you think of any convicted people who have not received a significant enough punishment in your opinion?