From the desk of Chris Barbera at Jesus the Liberator

March 31st, 2020

Naomi Klein recently spoke about “Coronavirus Capitalism.”  It is an extension of her idea of “Disaster Capitalism.” It is the vultures swooping in at time of greatest pain.  It is sadistic and greedy.  

Sadism and greed are two roots of incarceration.  They are also roots of slavery. Slavery was a capitalistic enterprise.  Foucault claimed that society is fixated upon “discipline and punishment,” which is another root/perceived remedy of incarceration.

Prison inmates are seen as a “root of all evil.”  Paul wrote that the “love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) He was certainly disciplined and punished and cast into prison.  The modern prison system is a multi-billion dollar industry that mostly warehouses poor people. 

Early Christian communities, like Christian communities in modern prisons, share a survival resiliency within a sadistic, punitive, greed driven empire.  The roots of much spirituality are within this struggle. At Jesus the Liberator, we would like to show how small forms of resiliency/survival inform and lead to a formation of faith.  This faith is the “still small voice within” and the redemptive seed of the larger society.

March 24, 2020

In our publication, Prison Theology, Lori Carter, an inmate at Fluvanna Correctional Facility in Virginia wrote an essay entitled “A Journey Through the Wilderness.”  She and many others refer to their time in prison as a “wilderness experience.” Similarly, Bo Lozoff wrote a book through the Prison Ashram project entitled “We’re All Doing Time.”  Doing time in the wilderness is a time of atonement, reflection, sacrifice and inner spiritual growth.

During this health pandemic and economic shutdown we are all doing time in the wilderness.  Like inmates, we are on some form of lockdown. Like inmates who have worked through “trials and tribulations” with resiliency and evolved consciousness, so too we all have a golden opportunity to reorient our world.  Many Inmates are the most patient people I have ever met. Since their fate and temporal conditions are very physically and tangibly sealed, they realize that the only reality that matters is spiritual.

It is my hope that we can apprehend this wisdom of prison inmates.  And when we apprehend it, we can integrate it into of life and world. 

March 17, 2020

The United States spends untold billions if not trillions of dollars on prisons, detention camps, border patrol, criminal courts, parole, surveillance and all manner of things related to the “prison-industrial complex.”  If we add to this the “military-industrial complex” and subsidies for fossil fuel companies and Wall Street bail-outs then the figure jumps to several trillions of dollars. Where are the people screaming “get big government off my back!?”

Now that we are in the middle of a health pandemic, wouldn’t it be wise to consider a transfer of wealth from the above mentioned “big government” entities to more relevant health and safety entities like the Center for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health, Medicaid and Medicare?

Rev. Fed Jensen, in our publication Prison Theology, wrote about the “Gerasene Demoniac.”  This is the story in Luke 8 about Jesus casting a man’s demons into a herd of swine that then drown.  Fred claims that since Jews did not eat swine, the swine herders were an imported Roman imperial economy.  Just as Jesus “overturned the money changers,” so too he casts demons into and destroys the imperial swine economy.  

Jesus the Liberator is not asking to destroy the demon economy of prisons, military, Wall Street speculative finance and fossil fuels.  We are simply asking a transfer of wealth and priority to health and education. Did Jesus use more time healing and teaching or did he make war and wealth?  Did the healing and teaching of Jesus lead him to prison?

March 10, 2020

On this past Sunday, I spoke with Bishop Sean about our evolving concept of Prison Theology.  His Lenten message is entitled “Deepening Commitment to Racial Justice.” The Episcopal Church has offered up “Resources for Racial Reconciliation and Justice” on its website.  Steve Hart, a member of St. John’s Grace, is a leading force in the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement (NYCAIC). Father Jon is involved with that effort, has visited prison inmates and is supportive of similar efforts. 

I list all of this to remind people that the larger church body, the local diocese and our particular parish all have a vested interest in racial justice and in addressing the injustice of prisons (which has a large racially discriminatory aspect).

Perhaps “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; to bind the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of prison to them that are bound.” (IS 61:1)

Please consider if you are called to these efforts within our “church” and “Our Church.”