Jesus Behind Bars

 I looked forward to the day eagerly. My friend Phil, an international businessman, and I would make the trek north to see Jim, a prisoner. We've done it repeatedly over the years.

It's always a chance for me to learn from Phil during the eight hours on the road.

We would make an intermediate stop at Finn's Point National Cemetery, just over the Delaware Memorial Bridge. There, my Great Great Uncle Jonas was buried on April 6, 1865, just days before Appomattox.  Jonas was one of the 2,436 Confederate Prisoners of War buried there.  Jonas had been taken to Fort Morris, outside Charleston.  There, Jonas and 600 of his fellow prisoners were tied up outside the federal batteries, exposed for thirty-one days to friendly fire from the rebel cannon inside the city.  Jonas's diary of that experience is serene.  This 24-year old man writes that he had no fear.  That he saw himself at a heavenly banquet with this dear father, a Baptist preacher, presiding over a well-laden table, surrounded by his loving family.

The Union army besieging Charleston had exposed Jonas and the other "Immortal 600" Southerners in reprisal for the Confederates' chaining starving Union prisoners to lampposts inside the city. Those Yankee prisoners had been brought from the hell of Andersonville.

Returned safely to Camp Delaware, he died of malnutrition the following spring. He is identified as a Captain Jonas Alexander Lipps of the 50th Virginia Infantry, the Stonewall Brigade. I brought flowers to the base of the 55-foot obelisk that honors the Confederate dead.  "Bury me in some secluded quiet place like this," Abraham Lincoln told Mary during a carriage ride on the last afternoon of his life.  That's the kind of place where Jonas and his brothers rest.  It is "the bivouac of the dead."

Continuing on to the prison, we notice there are more rows of barbed wire gleaming in the sun than when we last visited Jim. Inside, Officer Guerrero directs us to sign in and to stand on the line. He notices my Navy baseball cap-USS Abraham Lincoln-"Sir," he says with authority, "you may carry the hat, but you may not wear it." He's a powerfully built young man with "Semper Fi" tattooed on his arm. I obey instantly. This is a big improvement from previous trips, where Phil was barred entry, and where I was treated with contempt by sneering prison guards.  You feel like you are a prisoner.  If you give them any backtalk, they can keep you out and you've lost a whole day.

Once inside, Phil surveys the Visitors Room. He notices a fellow who looks like Bill Clinton, with silvered hair, surrounded by an adoring, elegantly dressed coterie. He might just have stepped off his yacht. In fact, some here have.  The family that Officer Guerrero shepherded in with our group joins what seems to be a family reunion.  Older and younger prisoners with the same last name -- father and son? -- form an affectionate knot in the middle rows.

A tall young black woman visiting her husband brings her daughter with her. The little girl, immaculately dressed in white, climbs on her father's knee. Her mother is dressed in a full-length burka, with only her eyes exposed. I finger my ball cap. "Shall not perish" is the Mighty Lincoln's motto. Is that a question?

Phil and I hear a conversation in the row behind us. "It's not how God wants her to live," says the prisoner to an older woman. His mother? Is he talking about his wife? His sister?

We don't want to intrude in the midst of this enforced intimacy. That's prison life. There is no privacy.

Jim arrives smiling, enthusiastic. We embrace and I note he's even thinner than before. They have yet to give him a denture for the three front teeth he's lost since he was sentenced four years ago.  Welcome to federal health care.  Jim tells us about the Bible Studies he leads and the ones he attends.  Then he talks about the daily threats of violence.  This is a medium security prison, where the men are not locked down every night.  But that means that one prisoner can get boiling water thrown on him as he sleeps.  Another, suspected of stealing, has his face slashed from his ear to his chin.  That's enough to give him a large, lurid scar, and enough to teach him that it could as well have been his throat.

That extra row of barbed wire outside has been placed there, Jim tells us, to keep outsiders from throwing things into the prison yard.  But prisoners can still get almost anything they want, drugs, cigarettes, cell phones, weapons.

Jim says the good thing about prison is that it teaches you to surrender yourself, body and soul, to the Lord. You are at the mercy of your surroundings.  Your life can be taken any moment.  Some, many even, surrender themselves to the Lord Jesus.  And not a few submit themselves to Islam.  Some of the most radicalized prisoners have been converted by Saudi-trained Imams.

Around the world today, Christians are being murdered and thrown into prison.  Iraq and Afghanistan, Egypt and Sudan, China and North Korea.  In many of these places, especially in the Bloody Crescent, it is Muslims who are killing Christians.

President Obama's White House dinners celebrating the end of Ramadan have not deterred these attacks.  He has yet to bring up the subject of Christian persecution during any of his apology tours.  We should remember that when Christians are persecuted, thrown behind bars, it is not just these people who are suffering, it is Jesus Himself who is being persecuted.

 Robert Morrison is Senior Fellow at the Family Research Council in Washington.


If you experience technical problems, please write to