|A Brief Review of
Edited by W.W. Goode, Sr., C.E. Lewis, Jr. & H.D. Trulear
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.
The statistics are incredibly disturbing. “The United States incarcerates its citizens at the highest rate of any nation. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that at midyear 2008 more than 2.3 million people were being held in federal or state prisons or in local jails. From 2000 to 2007, the overall prison population grew annually by an average of 2.4 percent. An additional 7 million persons are under the supervision of probation or parole…Data from the Pew Center confirm that the situation is especially daunting among African American males. Currently 1 in 15 African American males over age eighteen is behind bars, as opposed to 1 of every 36 Latinos and 1 of 106 white males. In addition, the Center reports that one of every nine African American males between the ages of 25 and 34 is behind bars.” (3) Ministry to Prisoners and Families is a response to those frightening statistics – a response of hope and courage and real answers. It is a powerful reminder of our calling and our responsibility as God’s people in this broken world, a world full of broken lives, families and communities. Even though it is directed specifically toward the African-American community (written out of deep concern over the high incarceration rate among African-Americans), the wisdom, discernment and vision found on its pages are true and relevant for all God’s people in every community.
This book is a series of articles written by those who have been in the middle of this battle for quite some time. The writers speak from their own incredible passion and experience. The wisdom and insights they offer are invaluable. Their words call the church to be the healing community God created her to be. “This text argues that congregations can help break the cycle of crime, recidivism, and intergenerational incarceration. Shalom, true peace, requires more than what the legal system’s institutional responses of incarceration, rehabilitation and reentry services can provide.” (2) Many of us believe, along with the writers, that God and His people are the answer to this growing crisis. The message of the cross, a message of forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration, lived out in Christian congregations, can transform lives and families and communities into places of wholeness. This is the good news – indeed the extraordinary news — on which our lives are centered and also the underlying message of this book.
Our writers leave “no stone unturned,” we see the big picture and all the little parts and pieces that make it up. The book is not just a collection of philosophies and theological statements but practical words and real life experience. The authors make us aware of how children of the incarcerated are affected (collateral damage) – and not only children but all family members – and how we might enter into their lives. The book touches on pre-entry…what factors might lead up to that day when a person is arrested? How can we enter into the lives of those who are on that path? How are having such great numbers of people incarcerated affecting whole communities? What about the juvenile justice system? What is important to understand about that piece of the puzzle? What are the struggles faced by one trying to integrate into society? (One author makes the statement that he prefers the word integration rather than the oft-used word, reintegration, because many who are incarcerated never were really integrated into society before; they never knew what it was like to be a productive and contributing member of a community.) The issues involved are so varied and so many but the authors did an incredible job in exploring all of them with wisdom and direction and purpose.
This book, despite its “heavy” topic, is encouraging and refreshing. It addresses the reality of a horrific situation with truth, honesty and hope. I would consider it a must-read for anyone with a heart and burden for the imprisoned (and I would guess that should be all of us). Maybe it should be a must-read for all of God’s people as a reminder of who we are called to be – a healing community in the midst of the brokenness around us. It will undoubtedly be a source of direction and guidance in the years to come as churches step up to the plate!
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com