Finding faith in prison

A Christian Science perspective on daily life

I'll never forget the first time I went to prison.

I'd offered to be a volunteer for my church. I wasn't sure what I was getting into, but I liked the idea of being a support to inmates interested in turning their lives around. On my first visit, I met an inmate - let's call him Eric - who would teach me what it takes to do that.

The prison closest to my home was a maximum-security facility, where inmates ended up after getting in trouble and then more trouble at less secure facilities.

At that point, they had lost all privileges, with hardly any means for developing themselves or for getting out of their small, individual cells - maybe just for visits from volunteers or occasionally from family.

But their families, along with the rest of society, had mostly given up on them. And with the world saying they were worthless, they kept doing things that made life worse.

My new friend Eric was no exception. But despite his bad behavior in prison, he had something going for him - a moral strength or integrity - because he was actually innocent of the crime that had put him in prison.

One could argue that in light of all that he had done, he didn't deserve to feel any moral strength or integrity. But he felt he had something to hold his head up about. It gave him an identity when all that his circumstances offered him was that of worthlessness and hopelessness.

His situation made me realize that we all need a reason to hold our head up - a connection with dignity, integrity, or goodness.

If we have that, at least in some way, we have a way forward in claiming more. And everyone does have it. Unfortunately, it's often hidden. But it's still there, because our Creator wrote it in our hearts.

God, the source of all good, is the origin of each of us and of all of life. The Bible expresses this concept in many ways, and this one particularly strikes me: "With thee is the fountain of life" (Ps. 36:9).

People may wander from this fountain, but because of our innate connection to it and affection for it, everyone has some reason for which they can hold their head up.

Everyone has an anchor set down on high ground - a reference point that can help them find the way home. There are certainly acts of kindness or moments of innocence that mark everyone's lives - even if they happened decades ago.

With a little help from myself and the other volunteers, my friend started concentrating on the good that was in him.

Eventually, an advocacy group was able to get him exonerated for the crime that had put him in prison. He is now serving his sentence for what he did in prison. He even expects to be out soon.

Circumstances can hide the reference points of good in our lives. Negative feelings about how things are can hide the positive of today and of yesterday, from ourselves and others. These feelings can cause people to do things that make life worse. But the good we need to build on in claiming more of that good is in place. God put it there.

Our Creator constantly appreciates the goodness that's in each of us, and we can do so as well. God helps us recall the good in us and identify ourselves with it, and when we take a stand for this good, it becomes apparent to others.

All this is actually inevitable since our origins are good. We get back to where our lives started - in God, the Mind or divine consciousness that created us. And we find what we're really made of.

The founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, devoted her life to helping humanity rediscover this innate goodness. She found, as she once wrote, "Man's genuine selfhood is recognizable only in what is good and true" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 294). In "Science and Health" she explained how we can go about this rediscovery and focus on and more fully understand this identity of each of us.

The rewards are uncountable. Eric will say that the sooner one commits to it the better.

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