Treat prisoners as you want to be treated, chaplain says
The senior chaplain of the N.C. Correctional Institute in Raleigh called for faith groups to treat prisoners as they would want to be treated during a guest sermon Sunday at Watts Street Baptist Church in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
The Rev. Prinn Deavens said she tells prisoners every day to “start believing everything God says about you – you are capable, you are worthy.”
Deavens said each person who is incarcerated has a story of who he or she was before they committed crimes.
“As believers in a higher being, are we doing the work of community on the front end?” Deavens asked the congregation. “Do we walk away if it’s not directly affecting me?”
She is interested in their stories and what landed them in prison, Deavens said. Like the man who told her he was defending his mother against an abuser. Or the woman who was raped and molested repeatedly early in life, making her numb to pain, and crime became easy.
Deavens asked what, as people of faith, they could have done.
“What preventative measures are we prepared for? Or just lock them up?” she asked.
Deavens also said that as a chaplain she is very grateful for volunteers who come to prison, but “there is so much more to prison ministry than coming to the other side of the gate.” Like how to help prisoners get jobs and manage money when they get out, she said.
As appreciative as they are of volunteers, she said, “you insult us when you come in and think you’re the only one who can bring them to the cross.” There are other opportunities to help prisoners, she said, who watch more of what you do than what you say.
She also pointed out that clinically trained chaplains cannot be replaced by volunteers, as chaplains are ready to work with different faith groups, not just Christian denominations. They’re there to protect prisoners’ religious rights, she said.
If King were alive today, Deavens said, he “would remind us we have an obligation to each other to look injustice in the face.”
The front of the Watts Street Baptist bulletin on Sunday included an image of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and an extended quote of his from February 1968. In part, it read, “… I want you to say that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”