From the desk of Chris Barbera at Jesus the Liberator

October 6, 2020

The president caught the virus.  At a press conference, about 10 doctors appeared to give an update.  He has the best health care in the nation (or world).  It fair to assume that the rich and powerful, like him, have about 10 doctors attending to 1 person. 

When I was setting up a program in prison for volunteers visiting inmates, I had to get a tuberculosis test.   The Erie County Medical Center (ECMC), in collaboration with the University of Buffalo Medical School, “exported” these test to a few health centers around the city, primarily in poorer neighborhoods.  So, I went to the Jesse Nash Center on William Street, near Jefferson, in a largely African American neighborhood.  When I entered, dozens of people were waiting for care.  While getting tested, I found out that there were no doctors on sight and only 2 nurses.  They mostly tested for tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases (STD’S), and Hepatitis.  Similarly, there were few medical staff people in the prison facilities I visited.

The (materially) rich and (earthly, crudely) powerful have a 10 to 1 ratio of doctors to patients.  The poor have perhaps 1 doctor for 100 people if they are lucky.  What is the morality of such a dichotomy?  Prison Theology, in line with the teaching of Jesus, would claim that this inequality is immoral.

September 29, 2020

I have seen and felt a new reality – life is suffering and forgiveness.  Since all people are imperfect and broken, all are thereby capable or deserving of forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a salve and solution to suffering.  Forgiveness is a freeing energetic force.

Anger is a powerful emotion.  It is a primary experience and emotion opposite to forgiveness.  It serves some purpose but is mostly deadly.  It is the base of the judicial system and of retribution.  It leads to punishment which leads to more violence.

Forgiveness is seen by some as weak and retribution as strong.  In an unchecked patriarchal cultural, strength is a monumental virtue.  Police and military (centurion guards) exhibit strength.  Law and order are virtues of the patriarchy.  

Forgiveness frees us of the patriarchal toxins.  Forgiveness does not condone violence or wrongdoing.  It gives us a new perspective, from a space of freedom, in which to engage the world.  Freedom, a foundational component of love, is a universal aspiration.  Forgiveness, and not anger, is a direct step towards love, which is a foundational component of freedom. 

Photo by Pixabay on

September 23, 2020

I have written this weekly short column for one year.  One intention was to elaborate, over time, the many concepts, visions, feelings, methods and influences of Prison Theology.  Another intention was to do that in a short space that could be read quickly and mulled over – like a parable or hieroglyphic.  

Time is limited.  Time is precious.  Can we communicate parts of our authentic self to others in a passing verbal exchange?  Is this why Jesus spoke in parables?  Can an hour long visit to a prison inmate produce a bond or shift within us that will remain for a life time?  Do we have the patience and focus to listen deeply to what is said, and hold it without judgment?  Would that be an act of Christian love?

September 17, 2020

This past Saturday, Contemplative Outreach, an organized group of people who practice a Christian form of Centering Prayer, had a book donation for the community in front of St. John’s Grace.  It was a day of great generosity and dialogue.  Many conversations about prayer and meditation took place on the stones in front of the door of the English Gothic church under the statue of John high above.

The books that were not distributed to the community were donated to Jesus the Liberator and will be distributed to prison inmates.  Christian prayer and studiousness and generosity and service to the “least of these” in prison all came together with the full support of the community of St. John’s Grace.

St. John’s Grace has a tradition of healing and prayer.  This is why Contemplative Outreach, led by Keith Kristich and Jesus the Liberator feel at home here.  One of the visions of Jesus the Liberator is to see prisons as potential places of study, prayer and devotion – a seminary with prison – and to see inmates as a source of spiritual power.  The books donated from Contemplative Outreach and the continual support of St. John’s Grace help us to bring that vision into fruition.