This morning, I read a post on World Magazine blog about prisoners receiving degrees while in prison. The post asked, "What do you think of this prison education program? A path toward genuine rehabilitation? Or an undeserved benefit?"
While skating through the rather long comment thread, I was disgusted by the attitudes displayed in certain comments, most of them made by Christians, I presume. Here are a few examples. . . .
"I think this is tragic. I don't have a degree and cannot afford to go to school. Apparently the only reason I can't get an education is because I have to work everyday to support my family rather than taking the easy way out by committing a crime. Maybe I should consider it."
"It upsets me when criminals get a free education when productive citizens have to scrape it together. Screw up and move up."
"What every happened to "an eye for an eye"? As far as I know, the OT dispensation of justice has not been abrogated by NT teaching."
"Think about it: We already pay for their food, clothing, shelter, cable TV, Internet, books, magazines, etc. Now, we are expected to foot the bill to pay for their education?"
Before I go on, you should know that my father is an electronics tech instructor in a occupational rehabilitation program at a men's medium security prison. And my mother became a Christian while incarcerated for drug related convictions--so I do have strong opinions.
I'm disturbed by an attitude that borders on envy and jealousy. After all, why should the Prodigal Son receive a gold ring and fattened calf and the older brother get nothing? Why should the laborer who worked only one hour get the same wage as the the laboror who worked 12 hours? Theoretically, we Christians don't have a problem with God showing mercy to people because God's resources are unlimited--but when society with its limited resources shows mercy, we holler, "No fair! I deserve that more than they do."
I am disturbed by an attitude that desires pure justice unmitigated by a shred of mercy be applied to people in prison. The desire for criminals to receive justice is natural. Yet it seems hypocritical to me if not accompanied by an equal desire for all people, including oneself, to receive justice. Frankly, I know that if God dealt with me justly, I'd no longer be on this earth. I'd be in hell.
I'm disturbed by an attitude which assumes that education is going to make life so easy for convicts that they would not have anything left to regret. That's not true. Just getting a college degree is not going to make life all smooth and easy for convicts. Most if not all have a horrific array of other problems--mental health issues, substance addictions, broken families--to overcome before they can even hope to attain a normal lifestyle. Not to mention that a bachelors degree in business from X State Prison is hardly equivalent to a bachelors from Harvard or from any state university.
I'm disturbed that very few Christians are willing to admit that a lot of crime is influenced by sociologial factors such as poverty, single-parents families, abuse, substandard schools. And that we all are guilty to some extent because we all contribute to our fellow men and women's downfall when we allow injustice to continue to exist.
No, I am not suggesting that we release prisoners or coddle them out of some misguided sense of mercy. But I am suggesting that we who call ourselves Christians not look down murderers, rapists, and thieves as though they were worse than ourselves. If it is a benefit to the criminal and not a burden to society to give them an education, than I say, "Amen! Where sin abounds, grace abound more." In my opinion, it is more of a benefit than a burden. What do you think?