What Is a Nice Girl Like You Doing In a Place Like That?

by | Jun 8, 2023

I was in prison and you visited me.
Matthew 25:36

Being involved in “Correctional Ministry” over the past 10 or so years, I have heard some variation of that question many times. Variations include: “Why would you want to do something like that?” and “Why would you put yourself in that kind of danger?” or–the most distressing to me–“What does that have to do with the Church?”

In my adult life I have always tried to be involved in some kind of service ministry, varying from overseas medical mission work to working for “Healthcare for the Homeless” when I relocated to Washington in my younger days. I have always been interested in behavior change from the inside out, and have felt a call to the ministry of reconciliation. When my knees and hips could no longer leap tall buildings and run faster than a locomotive, I began to consider the one to one ministry of reconciliation in earnest, and found a fertile mission field among the incarcerated.

The people we find in prison are mostly the victims of a variety of ills in our society: poverty, poor education, lack of good parenting (or none at all), lack of good opportunities for meaningful work, systemic white privilege, a justice system that lacks justice and more often than not is punitive rather than rehabilitative.

The women I minister with are really not that different from me. We all have needs that are the same–for love, for safety, for purpose and meaning, for opportunities for self-efficacy and self expression. Most of the ones I meet in prison have made poor decisions–often ones they saw as the best of multiple less-than-optimal choices. Yet the resurrection of Jesus means that no mistake anyone has made defines them, and no sin is the final end of the story. I am called to witness to that reality in my words, actions, and by choosing to “show up” for those who society has put out of its sight and mind. They too are loved by God and in need of His redeeming love.

Jesus quoted from Isaiah in pronouncing his own manifesto: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18). He invites us to share in this in whatever place we might find ourselves, to proclaim “a year of favor from the Lord”, to proclaim that a person’s identity is not what they have done, but who they are in the eyes of God, His beloved.

Prison is a fertile place to plant the seeds of a new identity that Christ offers, and a place that the message is truly saving and life changing. Much of what I do with the women I minister to is to help them choose to accept that new identity for themselves and in changing that identity, change their lives and make healthy, good decisions about their lives going forward. It is participating in the ministry of reconciliation that God calls each of us to.

I would love to discuss possibilities for participation with anyone who might feel the Holy Spirit’s urging them to be involved as well in ministry to and advocacy for the incarcerated.

The Rev. Adrienne J. Clamp, MD
Deacon, Church of the Redeemer, Bethesda