Prison, Manhood, and Change

security_fence sxchu_saavem

After getting a taste of the pain and isolation of being a prison inmate, I knew I needed to do something. So, I followed up with some conversations with an associate warden at Allendale Correctional Institute, about what else I could do. In particular, I was wondering if this would be an opportunity to introduce (and facilitate) the teaching from Men’s Roundtable, especially since one of the inmates I met said that they had a need for manhood curricula.

The warden set up a time for me to meet with 12 leaders (all of whom are inmates) from a special Character-based Housing Unit (CHU). I sat down with them, and talked about Men’s Roundtable, and even had some of the printouts to give them as examples. (Don’t think that I wasn’t at least a little intimidated or nervous, especially when I was alone with them in a conference room. But this was all on me, since these men were completely cordial and welcoming.)

After I summarized the series called The Quest for Authentic Manhood, one of the men asked, “How is this different from this other Authentic Manhood book we have?” Confused, I asked what he meant. Then he showed me his copy of The Quest for Authentic Manhood, published under Men’s Fraternity.

I chuckled and explained that our church had stolen [wait, not the right term to use in this context] modified the Men’s Fraternity curriculum over the years.

It turns out that a couple of these leaders had come across this material in a previous prison, and had just obtained it with the goal of starting the program at Allendale Correctional Institute. So, instead of me leading Men’s Roundtable material, I would be sitting in on the course they were about to start. Down the road, we figured that we could switch programs (as an abridged version, or as a change-of-pace).

Perfect! Instead of me having to lead, these guys were able to own it. And as they invited me to sit in with them (as my schedule allowed), I happily accepted, since this would give me a chance to get to know them more.

Session 1

Last Sunday, I went to the prison for the first session. Once again, there was an unfounded but eerie feeling, especially as I walked alone (but watched) through the courtyard towards the CHU dorm. In a small room with a TV, DVD player, chairs, and filing cabinets, I sat with 12 other men, me wearing jeans and a t-shirt, them in khaki pants (with SCDC down the leg) and plain white shirts.

As we discussed the first video, these men explained why they want to do this series:

I want to get a clear understanding of my role as a man.

I need to change before I get out of prison. If I leave the same way I came in, I won’t last a week on the streets.

I want to learn how to be a more responsible man, and teach other men to do the same.

I want to discover more about who I am.

I haven’t had many friends, and it’s my fault. I want to be a man who others want to be a friend to.

Like all of us men, these guys were (or are) confused about manhood. Most of them are from single-parent (or no-parent) homes. Many of them were teenagers (or younger) when they ran away from home, were abandoned, were physically abused, and/or were imprisoned for the first time.

Why am I there? Well, I could definitely use a refresher of this material. And I’m also looking forward to getting to know my new friends, and to have mutual encouragement as we grow in manhood.

Life Change

But as we move forward, I’m reminded that no program is going to change us by itself. Even raw willpower will fail us. When you talk to guys in prison (or who have been in prison), you hear how difficult it is to avoid going back. When they are released, they are at a huge disadvantage already. They don’t want to go back to prison, but many do.

To have lasting life-change, a number of things can help: a good program, a good support group. But ultimately, we need Jesus. It is only by trusting in His sufficiency, and by yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit, can we become what God has for us.

Consider these words from Romans 7, verses 14-25:

“For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. . . . For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. . . .

Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

Please pray for these men, that they will change for the better, and especially that their change will be rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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**image courtesy of saavem via


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