Here's a brief description of the three Texas prison ministry volunteers profiled:
When the average person conjures an image of a prisoner, what is pictured? Does the mind’s eye see a lone shadow with defiance and anger on his face and evil and ill-intent in his heart, prowling for trouble and poised to wreak violence? And who or what provides this image? Movies? The news media? Fear?
When three people from Texas look into the faces of prisoners, they see an opportunity for repentance, a prospect for a second chance, a vessel of potential. Their perception of prisoners is not based on sensationalized images from any screen, or on what they think it means to be a prisoner. Among them, they have more than three decades of experience in prison ministry. And while they, too, acknowledge that there are prisoners who live up to society’s stereotypes, there are also those who reduce such notions into myth.
With 15 years of prison ministry experience, Lloyd Knapp points out that people inside prison and people outside of prison have at least one major similarity: the capability of making poor choices. The difference between prisoners and nonprisoners most often lies within circumstance. “There are those of us who commit crimes, and there are those of us who don’t get caught. Obviously most of us haven’t committed murder or done drugs, but we’ve done things that we regret or wish we hadn’t. Prisoners make mistakes, too, but they habitually make those mistakes. They’re not evil at heart; they’ve just been down that road so long, it’s difficult for them to change.”
Judy Indermuehle, a prison volunteer for more than nine years, agrees with Lloyd. In fact, she says that looking inside a prison is like looking into a large cultural mirror. “The prison population is a large mix of society,” says Judy, “same as we have outside. Prisoners are bad and evil, just like we are. We are capable of what they’ve done, and unless we are able to view ourselves that way, it would seem we are full of arrogance.”
Adelaide Biggs, a volunteer with more than nine years of experience inside prisons, echoes Judy’s tenacious sentiment. “We need to remember that we’re all sinners,” she says. “Jesus changes us. Most of the people I see have lived a horrible life and made terrible choices, but they know they can be different people through Christ. And isn’t that the Christian faith?”
All three volunteers agree: Prisoners are neither more nor less evil than those outside of prison. The main difference between the majority of the incarcerated and the majority of the free is not something inherent, so much as it is something acquired.