Visiting Those in Prison

This week a Detroit judge is going to prison. But not for the typical reasons, like graft or corruption. Instead, this judge is headed for prison to preach and pray with prisoners. I'm talking about Judge Gershwin Drain of the Wayne County, Michigan, Circuit Court. Judge Drain began visiting inmates 18 months ago because the same offenders kept turning up in his courtroom again and again. It was obvious that simply sending men to prison was doing little to break the cycle of crime. In the judge's words, "Crime is a spiritual problem, and the real answer to crime requires changed hearts and lives." I couldn't have said it better myself. So, one Sunday each month, Judge Drain joins his friend, the Reverend James Owens, in leading two Protestant services at Detroit's Mound Road Correctional Facility. The inmates - thieves, murderers, drug dealers - greet the judge with bear hugs. The inmate choir opens each service with gospel songs, and the prison classroom echoes with shouts of "Praise the Lord!" The men then open their Bibles to hear the lesson. Since most of the inmates have had poor role models in their lives, the judge makes a point of discussing biblical men of great character, like Joshua. He then encourages the men to develop the character qualities they learn about. And the judge doesn't walk out of those prison gates without each week inviting the men to accept Christ. Judge Drain has another reason for spending Sundays in prison. Our Lord says we will be judged by how much compassion we show to those who live on the fringes of society. He made a special point of including prisoners. So etched in Judge Drain's mind are the words of Jesus: "When I was in prison, you visited me." Judge Drain's own visits have become a labor of love. "When I'm worshipping with [these men]," he says, "there's no other place on Earth I'd rather be." And the feeling is shared by the men. Samuel Martin, an inmate who is serving a 50-to-100-year sentence for rape, says, "We love the judge for coming to pray with us, when even some families don't visit." Even the men whom Judge Drain sent to prison are glad to see him. Maurice Reynolds, whom Drain sentenced to life in prison for murder, explains that Drain is coming to prison, not as a judge, "but as a brother in Christ." And that, Reynolds says, "makes it very easy to accept him." How many of us take seriously Jesus' command to visit those in prison? Have you ever considered going behind bars to witness to those who are among "the least of these"? Judge Drain is right: Crime is a moral problem and that demands moral solutions. If we're ever going to do something to really deal with crime in this country, we've got to do more than simply lock criminals up. We must lead them to transformed hearts and lives through faith in Jesus Christ. So hats off to Judge Gershwin Drain - the judge who spends his weekdays locking up thieves, murderers, and drug dealers - and then spends his weekends unlocking their hearts for Christ.


Chuck Colson


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