Acton Institute Powerblog

Folsom Prison Blues

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I received an email today from the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, an independent outreach of Prison Fellowship Ministries. It seems the iniative is facing rising program costs due to legal battles over the legitimacy of its Christian makeup. And constant critics of the program, like Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, seem rather incredibly cold-hearted to the plight of today’s prisoner.

The InnerChange Freedom Initiative is one of the few elements in prisoners’ lives that has the ability to give them hope. And this hope is not just hope for release from physical bonds, but hope for release from the spiritual bonds of sin and corruption. Here are some of the key facts about the initiative:

  • The corrections system in America is broken. More than 600,000 people will be released from U.S. prisons and jails this year, and 52% of those ex-inmates will be return to prison within three years.
  • Departments of Correction are seeking help, asking for proposals for values-based prisoner rehabilitation alternatives.
  • The InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a biblically based, round-the-clock prison program works. An independent study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that only 8% of prisoners who graduated from our IFI program in Texas were reincarcerated within two years of their release.

This final point gets at the heart of the prison problem in America. For a system that is supposed to be based in large part on “rehabilitation,” recidivism rates are disturbingly high. This remains the case because the root issues are spiritual, and the state is spectacularly incapable of addresses such concerns. Johnny Cash, a Christian who had to push to record Gospel albums, recorded a hit song in 1968, “Folsom Prison Blues.” The lyrics of this song attest to the spiritual nature of criminality (emphasis added):

I hear the train a comin’; it’s rollin’ ’round the bend,
And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when.
I’m stuck at Folsom Prison and time keeps draggin’ on.
But that train keeps rollin’ on down to San Antone.

When I was just a baby, my mama told me, “Son,
Always be a good boy; don’t ever play with guns.”
But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.
When I hear that whistle blowin’ I hang my head and cry.

I bet there’s rich folk eatin’ in a fancy dining car.
They’re prob’ly drinkin’ coffee and smokin’ big cigars,
But I know I had it comin’, I know I can’t be free,
But those people keep a movin’, and that’s what tortures me.

Well, if they freed me from this prison, if that railroad train was mine, I bet I’d move on over a little farther down the line, Far from Folsom Prison, that’s where I want to stay, And I’d let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.

Comments

  • BrotherJ

    Great Johnny Cash reference. I did some prison ministry quite a few years ago and I have never seen such a hardened group of individuals. They need the gospel to change; nothing short of that will work.