Earlier this year, the Monitor reported that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth had announced the government’s intention to bring about a major shake-up of England’s prisons – the most significant since Victorian times. The proposed reforms “reflect a growing international consensus that prisons are not simply a place of punishment but provide paths to rehabilitation or redemption” (see “Queen Elizabeth unveils Britain’s ‘biggest shakeup’ of prisons since Victorian times”).
More recently, the Monitor tells the story of inmates in California who are learning software coding as part of a new rehabilitation ethos after 40 years of “get tough” penal philosophies (see “Hard time software: Why these prisoners learn computer coding”).
These efforts suggest to me a sense of humanity’s progress beyond a static view of imprisonment toward a higher desire to reshape our mental models of ourselves and others as being inherently good. This view is confirmed in the Bible’s explanation of man and woman as the spiritual image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:26, 27, 31). Starting with this sense of creation helps us develop a clearer moral and spiritual vision that supports true reform – the kind that comes from within.
As a Christian Science lecturer, I had a number of opportunities to speak to inmates in juvenile correctional facilities, and to adults in medium- and maximum-security prisons. One constant that I found with many of them was a longing on their part to rediscover themselves as something more than the “offender” badge that many institutions required them to wear.
In talking with a number of these prisoners, I was able to share with them the fact that God’s love doesn’t stop when it encounters a hardened facade, such as a view of oneself as a “hardened criminal” or as someone “stuck in the system.”
One of the most moving examples of this came when I asked a group of female prisoners if any of them were familiar with the Bible narrative of the adulterous woman whom the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus for judgment (see John 8:1-11). One woman raised her hand and said without emotion, “That’s me.” It gave us the chance to talk about how the authorities during that period had, at least mentally, already tried and convicted the woman ahead of time. And how they had come to Jesus, expecting him to concur that she should be stoned to death.
Instead, Jesus reset the entire scene with these words: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” As John’s Gospel relates, every one of her accusers, “being convicted by their own conscience,” walked away. And then, with tender, healing words, the master Christian said to the woman, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” The presence of the Christ-love Jesus expressed offered reformation of the woman’s view of herself and reformation of the crowd’s coldhearted disdain for her – and of their own self-importance.
Then, in that community room in the prison where we’d gathered, another inmate turned to the one who’d raised her hand and said, “That’s not you. Not guilty.” It was clear the state of thought in that room had been changed, reflecting what Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy wrote in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “In divine Science, where prayers are mental, all may avail themselves of God as ‘a very present help in trouble.’ Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals” (pp. 12-13).
We all can be open to discovering the healing power of divine Love, which reveals our true spiritual nature as God’s own image: innocent, pure, and whole. Through a Love-inspired change of thought, paths to reformation and rehabilitation can be found right where we are, here and now.