I'm Behind Bars

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By
the time you’re reading this, I’ll be locked up. I can hear some
critics thinking, “It’s about time!”

There is nothing like a weekend in a maximum-security prison to
enable a person to appreciate the blessings of liberty.

I do this several times a year. I am part of a volunteer ministry
called Kairos.
That is the Greek word for “special time,” as distinguished from
chronos: “clock time.” The organization is well-named. It offers
a very special time.

Anywhere from 30 to 40 “free worlders” go into a prison. We sit
at tables with hardened criminals. There are guys here who you would
not like to meet in a dark alley. Yet by the end of this weekend,
a few of them will have their lives transformed. I have seen it
happen again and again. This is why I keep going back.

PRISON: A REALLY BAD IDEA

In the Bible, the only prisons are in the empires: Joseph in an
Egyptian prison, John the Baptist in a Roman prison, Peter and Paul
in Roman prisons.

There was no prison system in Mosaic Israel. This was no accident.
There were punishments in Mosaic Israel: restitution to the victim,
whipping, and execution for certain crimes. But there were no prisons.
Why not? Because there was no need. The criminal owed no debt to
society.

If a person stole and then got caught, he paid double restitution
to his victims (Exodus 22:4). He did not owe anything to society.
He had not committed a crime against society. He owed money to his
victims.

This weekend, I will be dealing with men who may have committed
theft. If I were able to offer them the following option, do you
think they would take it?

First, you
can serve your time here. Second, you will be released tomorrow,
on this basis: you will pay your victims 25% of everything you
earn until you have paid twice the value of what you stole from
them, plus interest. If you fail to pay or attempt to flee, you
will be put back in here for twice your original term.

I don’t have to guess. I know what 99% of them would choose: option
#1.

Now think of the arrangement from the victim’s point of view. He
has two choices:

(1) Pay
his share of the $50,000 a year it takes to house the thief, or
(2) get double his money back plus a tax refund for his share
of the saved housing money for the remainder of the man’s term.

This
decision is called a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, the people who designed the prison system preferred
to collect taxes and cheat the victims.

The American prison system was invented in the 1820s, along with
the state-run orphanage, the state-run poorhouse, and the state-run
insane asylum. Before the 1820s, these institutions were locally
funded and operated. Then the reformers got their hands on these
institutions and the taxes generated to operate them. (A well-researched
book on this is David Rothman’s The
Discovery of the Asylum
[1971].)

So famous was the experiment in its day that Alexis de Tocqueville
came to America in the 1830s to see how the system worked. He never
got around to writing about it. He wrote Democracy
in America
instead — one of the great books of all
time (although it could have used an editor with a blue pencil.)

The prison was supposed to reform men, to make them good. This was
part of the Grand Idea: salvation by legislation. The public school
system was part of this same messianic program. (See R. J. Rushdoony,

The Messianic Character of American Education
[1963].)

Now that Grand Idea looks less than grand. The results are in. Mankind
has not yet been reformed. Taxes are a lot higher. Crime rates are
a lot higher. Literacy rates are a lot lower. But the bureaucratic
heirs of the original reformers still serve as caretakers of a clearly
botched series of systems.

A MESSAGE OF HOPE

For three and a half days, a group of mostly average Joes will bring
a message of hope to men who have very little hope. We don’t offer
consolation. We don’t offer parole letters. But we do offer hope.
And food.

To get them to attend three days of speeches and activities in painful
self-examination, we offer food. The ministry understands Paul’s
description:

For many
walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping,
that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is
destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their
shame, who mind earthly things (Philippians 3:18—19).

The way to a prisoner’s heart is through his belly. So we feed them.
They get high-fat ice cream. They get hamburgers with all the trimmings.
They get bar-b-que. They get cookies. Oh, man, do they get cookies!

A team takes in 4,000 dozen cookies. We could use 5,000. We leave
empty-handed.

In most prisons, cookies serve as currency. Whenever Kairos comes
in, the local currency market is disrupted for several days. (There
is a Ph.D. dissertation here somewhere.)

The inmates come through the doors on Thursday evening as professional
skeptics. They don’t trust us. They think, “What’s their angle?”

Actually, this isn’t all that different from what anyone thinks
when he first hears Christianity’s message of hope. TANSTAAFL. “There
ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” True: but he who has paid
the price for your free lunch has the right to offer you a place
at the table.

That’s what we do for three days.

TESTIMONIES

Here are a few testimonies from men in one prison where I have served.

My emotional
and spiritual condition was on empty. I was walking around dead.
The system had taken all hope out of me. . . . Today I am a new
creature. I am not alone. I have a family that truly cares about
me. . . . Kairos saved my life. . . . My weekend was the best
weekend of my life.

~ Bruce A.

I joined
Kairos out of selfishness because I couldn’t resist the temptation
offered by all the things I had heard about how ‘great’ Kairos
was. The Lord really had a surprise in store for me. Since joining,
I have given my whole tired life to God. . . . Words cannot explain
how truly wonderful and beneficial the Kairos program really is.

~ Frank P.

I am no
longer depressed or filled with anger and hatred of all white
people. . . . The ministry gave me hope for a future I thought
I had lost. I have found peace of mind that I never thought possible.
It is not easy being a Christian, but it is fulfilling.

~ Nordling C.

I was a
lost person as far as religion went. . . . Now after turning my
life over to God, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
. . . I’m a new me. I wouldn’t change back to the old me for anything
in the world.

~ Joseph M.

I was hanging
on by a thread so small, it could have broken at any moment, but
Jesus just would not give up on me. . . . The Kairos ministry
has made a big difference in my life. It has reassured me that
there are a lot of Christian people out there who really care
for people like me.

~ Steven L.

My emotional
and spiritual condition before my Kairos weekend was completely
dead. I had no emotions and did not care about anyone. . . . I
hardly knew anything about religion and despised all Christians.
. . . I now live as those people who I used to think of as weak.
They have shown me a better life. . . . I could have never made
it without the Christians who have helped me.

~ David L.

CONCLUSION

So, I did not write a report on the state of the economy or the
latest hurricane. There is lots of news, most of it bad. Today,
I will be focusing on good news. But you won’t get to hear this.
Take my word for it.

September
24, 2005

Gary
North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 17-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible
.

Gary
North Archives

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