What was I doing in prison – make that two prisons – in April and July? I was teaching… and learning.
For eight weeks, I taught two courses to inmates on literature written by Christians imprisoned for their faith. It was all part of the research for my next book.
I offered the course in order to test my hunch that, given their distinctive angle of vision, the participants would see things in Christian prison literature that I might miss.
The courses focused primarily on the literature of two very different “ambassadors in chains”: Vibia Perpetua, a second-century Roman Catholic noblewoman from North Africa; and American Baptist preacher and civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr.
The book, who’s working title is Ambassadors in Chains (a reference to Ephesians 6:20), asks “How do Christians incarcerated for their convictions manage to hold on to those convictions in the face of the dangers, privations, and humiliations of prison life? How do they continue bearing witness to those convictions in spite of the state’s effort to silence them or force them to recant?”
In the writing and researching process, I have learned more about true freedom. It’s not being able to do whatever you want, but truly wanting to do what you know you ought to do. For the participants in my classes, as for the authors of the literature we’ve been studying, such freedom is found through the practice of the presence of God, whose companionship, as Martin Luther King reminds us, ‘does not stop at the door of a jail cell.’
—Richard B. Steele, PhD, Professor of Moral & Historical Theology