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Old 06-08-2003, 07:53 AM
Kenneth Oneil - KO1's Avatar
Kenneth Oneil - KO1 Kenneth Oneil - KO1 is offline
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Default Jailhouse Religion

We've all heard of the phrase "Jailhouse Religion". It's usually used in a
negative connotation. But do any of you know exactly what is meant by these
seemingly incongruent words? Let's examine what is implied the majority of
time this phrase is used and see whether or not it has any basis in fact.
Usually you'll find that others have a tendency to label those who claim to
have found spiritual enlightenment in the jailhouse, and especially via the
Christian method, as being fake and seeking self gain. It goes back to
stereotyping people. Most individuals believe wrongly that the majority of
people in prison are criminals at heart and con men for all life and
therefore are incapable of true redemption and permanent change. Following
this line of reasoning it's apparent that such shallow minded individuals
who could stoop to such degraded thoughts could never appreciate the finer
inherent emotions and sentiment contained within all people everywhere.
These types of skeptics and naysayers find no personal worth or higher
emotions in their own lives so think it is impossible to find such grand
spirituality and lofty ideals within others, especially those in the
penitentiary. These chronic doubters in the honorable inner worth and
capability for good within humans are partially responsible for the terrible
rap converts within a jailhouse setting receive and many times are still
stigmatized when they are released. Many other reasons must take partial
responsibility as well. It is true that there have been many fakers behind
the walls who claimed to be holy rollers for reasons of personal gain,
namely in the hopes of making parole. It is unestimable the astronomical
number of people who have decided to play games with the Lord in the hopes
word would get back to the administration and enhance their chances for a
more cushy job position or maybe a better shot at parole. It happened way
back when in the game and it still happens today. Some inmates can cuss and
gamble like the devil by night but still attend Bible studies religiously
like clockwork by day and roll into the chapel everytime the doors open.
Each person is solely responsible for their own spiritual enhancement or
salvation so if you tell them they're a hypocrite they'll rightly tell you
to mind your own business and refer you to Matthew 7:1, which they have
every right to do! By implying someone has "Jailhouse Religion" you must
first make the assumption that they are fake and lying or are a full blown
hypocrite. You will know a person for their sincerity or bogisity(word
Texans use-smile) by their actions and the fruit they produce. Nuff' said.
The notorious gamers that choose religion as their racket rarely achieve
much personal gain from imitating something that is real and genuine. A good
percentage of freeworld people who write to inmates are Christians so
knowing the lingo of jailhouse religion can assist a con to get down, fool
and game his penpal. They know all too well how to talk the talk but fall
short when it comes to walking the walk. Some adherents of jailhouse
religion fall prey to it simply cause they wish to be in a cult of
personality. In prison desperate people, which consists of a high proportion
of inmates in there, are looking for a messiah to show them the way. When
the next con comes along who can quote scripture in his sleep and seems to
have the oratory gift to be the next Billy Graham, a group of lonely
disciples will flock to him to bask in the light of his ego and promote his
every word and deed. Yes it appears that most are followers in prison and
are searching for a better way and will fall for any song and dance that is
flaunted before them. Jesus had his disciples and the jailhouse religion
con certainly has his. In today's world there are sooooo many different
denominations in the Christian churches alone that all but the most devoted
and earnest spiritual seeker will become confused. Some people become so
sick and tired of trying to weed through all the various differences and
tenets of faith that they give up on organized religion and create their own
hodge podge potpourri of various elements. Like at a buffet or a
smorgasboard they take the bits and pieces off each table that appeal to
them and suits their temperament and leave the rest where they found it.
Many interesting ideologies of an occult and esoteric nature come about from
these self styled gurus. Lengthy discussions take place regularly in
dayrooms as this supposed enlightened individual points "his" way to
nirvana, peace and eternal life. Many confused inmates who don't have a clue
will unfortunately listen. Many inmates do have a true religious conversion
while in the joint. Due to the negative jacket of being fake put upon
adherents of jailhouse religion many times the true spiritual seeker who
shuts himself off to material existence to follow the higher realm of the
spirit will totally desassociate himself from any and all organized
religious activity behind the wire. He may read and study his chosen book of
spiritual guidance daily but he keeps his thoughts concerning his lofty
spiritual ideals to himself because he is weary of where he is at and what
being "religious" implies there. I believe there is more than a grain of
truth to the thought that some people who find religion in prison do so out
of fear. Not out of fear for their eternal soul but out of fear for their
material well being while locked up. I have been in chapel services where
the openly gay effeminate homosexuals sit on the first two rows and blow
kisses to and try to hug on each other during the entire meeting. All the
well meaning spiritual seekers are distracted by this blatant disrespectful
behavior in the house of the Lord. No it's not just homosexuals who hide
behind the Bible while doing time. Some men who have openly "caught out" and
snitched on others to get moved to a better wing by claiming their life was
in danger, which it may have been, pick the Bible or other religious
guidebook up. The Lord can and will save anyone who is sincere and has a
true salvation experience.These individuals are not exempted. However, many
use the Bible and religion behind the walls only when it suits them. If they
feel they are in danger they openly begin to carry their Bible and flaunt
their religious convictions loudly so all will here. By doing so they also
explain to others that they are a pacifist and have no animosity towards
anyone nor do they care to fight anybody. It is apparent to most when
someone is hiding behind the Bible to avoid conflict they otherwise would
have faced. Many times professing faith and a pacifist lifestyle is not
enough for the man trying to avoid conflict. Some inmates thrive on being
able to detect and weed out a fake. Many men leaving prison gangs claim to
have had a spiritual awakening and are usually allowed to leave the "family"
they were in as a result and many times in good standing. Men in gangs have
proven themselves at fisticuffs and many times in harsher violence and
therefore other members believe they must be sincere in their professed
faith and wish to allow them space and to maintain their friendship. The
ones family members are suspect of are those who quit the ride first then
after the fact and fear of a hit on their lives claim religion. All in all
most spiritually minded truth seekers in the pen keep their faith to
themselves or share only with a close knit select group of friends. I'll
wager to guess that most men who endure a lengthy sentence of five years or
more go through a phase of soul searching and spiritual seeking. Some of
these revert back to their old ways as they find they cannot snap their
fingers and make God obey their every wish and whim like some enslaved
genie. Yet a significant proportion of these have a conversion that is
eternal and drastically changes who they are from the inside out. This
conversion lasts beyond the walls and their eventual release. If you really
give it some thought "jailhouse religion" implies alot of negative stuff. It
suggests a man only turned to this professed faith out of fear or personal
gain and that as soon as they are released from jail or are no longer in
fear that they will drop it like a hot potato and when the mask comes off a
conniving and plotting bastard will lurk underneath. Possibly this is so
with some but I personally don't think it is so with most. It's a proven
fact that many men have turned their lives over to spiritual awareness,
enlightenment and the force of life and light while incarcerated and they
are a powerful witness for the forces of positivity in the freeworld today.
It's hard not to judge others in institutions on whether or not they are
sincere in their professed beliefs or whether or not it will last or is for
show. One fabulous woman I know who works with many behind the wire to
assist them in their spiritual walk is my baby Laura, aka Lulu to y'all.
Smile. She helped me to share my testimony with others even while still
incarcerated and to get beyond my sterotypical view of jailhouse religion.
Due to some bad apples who use God for gain in prison it should never be a
deterrent or hindrance to the man who has truly reached beyond himself and
found the waiting and accepting arms of God and spirituality halfway on the
other side. Jailhouse religion is hard to pin down exactly or to quantify.
Only a person can know within themselves whether what they claim to have
found is genuine and lasting or short lived, hypocritical and fake. I came
back to my senses and spiritualit was awakened while in the joint. My
conversion was sincere, lifelong and heartfelt. That's why I'm sharing this
with all who feel called to read it. For every fake there has to be the
genuine article or artifact that was imitated. True conversions abound in
the jailhouse. Keep the Faith.

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Old 06-08-2003, 08:37 AM
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I'm definatly printing this out and sending it to Mark. This is great!

Shelly
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Old 06-08-2003, 11:22 AM
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Ko1

E-mail me

Steve Butler
Director Messengers Prison Ministry

www.messengerspm.org

Southlake, TX

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  #4  
Old 06-08-2003, 11:51 AM
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Big B, i have PM you as well.
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many hugs
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Old 06-11-2003, 10:48 AM
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The incidence of Christianity being the Jailhouse Religion of choice might say more about its outward trappings than about the core of the faith. A religion that has accumulated a fair amount of "conversion" language and ideology is not a bad fit in a prison situation. I would also like to know whether there is sometimes spiritual damage to individuals' faith from the group phenomena of Jailhouse Religion, and what needs doing to counter that.
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Old 06-11-2003, 07:32 PM
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I think when a person goes to prison, they're more open to religious conversion. There's nothing wrong with that. But I think sometimes those who work evangelistically with prisoners don't carry on and teach the offender further by teaching them practical things---------like that even though you can undergo a conversion and become "a new person" and memorize lots of scriptures or spiritual idioms, you're still going to have the same dysfunctional thoughts and habits unless you can learn to do differently. Undergoing a spiritual transformation is a process for a lot of people rather than a zap-boom-bang conversion. It was for me. I think it's easy for Christian testimony to unwittingly give the impression that it happens miraculously and without effort, when we all know that isn't usually the case. A person also has to unlearn a lot of old stuff and learn new stuff, so to speak, to make it work. On the other hand, there are those in prison who do use a manipulative approach, thinking if they say all the right stuff and fake a conversion it's going to benefit them in other ways. Jailhouse religion got a bad name because it's easy to vow to change your ways, but when rubber meets the road and the offender gets out, all the pitfalls and temptations are still there and the evangelistic support may not be so it becomes overwhelming and they give in to temptation. Then people think they faked it. I think the people who continue to mentor the prisoner when they get out do the most good in the long run.
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Old 06-11-2003, 08:00 PM
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Interesting! I feel that the same issues and the topic of 'jailhouse Religion' can fit into ANY persons life: incarcerated or not!
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Old 06-12-2003, 11:42 PM
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Bingo! Thank you for putting in words what I could not, Toi_ama. Yes, I see that is what I am stumbling along trying to do with my penpal -- address the little practical needs for growth that a big easy answer swallowed whole might not nourish. And yes, PmeKay, I have seen these same issues with individuals INSIDE a church community "out here" -- it can be so oppressively unreal. At the same time I have passed by quiet compassionate people who are very giving and in the Spirit and not immediately recognized Him because in their helping there was no clanging gong or crashing cymbals of preaching, praying, and Bible-reciting. For sure I think G_d has a sense of humor and does not want our lives lived in bored certainty that we've understood all. There are still bedsheets to wash, bills to pay, noses and tears to wipe, and government forms to fill out, and in it if there is love, then we find G_d there amongst all that crap? What fun to find and do! And many times without words but Thank you.
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