USA (MNN) — Going into 2022, did you know the United States is still the most incarcerated nation in the world?
The US makes up about 5% of the global population, yet incarcerates roughly 25% of the world’s prisoners. Today, there are approximately 2 million men and women in the US prison system.
Doug Cupery with Crossroads Prison Ministries says these statistics have significant implications for American society. And they pose an invitation to the American Church.
“A really hard statistic is that one out of 28 children has an incarcerated parent right at this moment,” says Cupery. “One out of 28 grows exponentially when we think about the years. We think about how many through these decades that these children had an incarcerated parent. What does that mean as they grow up?
“What does it mean for society where one out of 17 white men will likely be incarcerated at some point in their life, or one out of six Hispanic men, and one out of three African American men will be incarcerated at some point in their life?
“It’s really difficult when we think about how many of these men and women — not all, but many — have had a hard life. They’ve gotten lost in the system. They really come out of difficult upbringings. They got lost in the school systems. One of the main things is that they haven’t had an advocate speaking on their behalf.”
This is where the Body of Christ comes in. What men and women in prison need is a gracious and persistent Church to engage them with Jesus’s transformative love.
Cupery points to Matthew 25 where Jesus says to His followers, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…. whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:36, 40b)
What if we really believed visiting the prisoner meant visiting Jesus? How could that create a surge of interest in prison ministry among believers seeking to serve the Lord?
Crossroads’ mentorship program connects Christian mentors with Bible study students in prison. Mentors connect by writing letters with their mentees and taking them through a Crossroads Bible study.
“Through Crossroads, our mentors have an opportunity,” says Cupery. “I’ve heard the stories over and over again about what that has meant to them, what the mentors have experienced when they visit the prisoner. That intersection with Jesus [and] that Holy Spirit experience is life-changing.”
Engaging with and visiting prisoners also goes beyond the prison walls. It needs to extend to men and women released from prison as well.
“When they are released, in many respects, they are still a prisoner,” says Cupery. “It just saddens my heart that when we release them, they will never ever fully be restored into our communities. They will have trouble finding apartments. They’ll have trouble finding employment. They’ll have trouble finding acceptance into our community.
“That’s why I believe it is so important for the Church to step into this problem, to step into what God calls us — to reach and come alongside those that we oppress, those that we push down, those that we forget, those that we push aside. It’s our responsibility.”
Looking beyond someone’s sins and offering mercy, love, and friendship — this is what Christ did for all of us.
Cupery shares, “I’ve been working for this type of ministry for almost 20 years. What I’m speaking is what I was offered. That’s why I can sit next to you today. So many of the folks getting out of incarceration or who are incarcerated just don’t have anybody.
“What they really need is for you to be present. And not just one time to give them the Gospel message. They need you to sit down next to them and say, ‘You know what? I’m here for you. I care. I’m going to come back and I’m going to come back.’ That’s the beauty about Crossroads. We keep showing up.
“If we don’t speak into the problem, if we don’t come alongside them as the Church, somebody else will.”
Cupery also asks, “Pray for our ministry, that we will have the resources and the capacity to continue to grow. You can pray for our legislators who continue to make laws that become more and more difficult for people to navigate. You can pray for our prison systems, that they will be fair, that they will be just, [and] that there will be kindness.”
Header photo courtesy of Hasan Almasi via Unsplash.