In Psalm 142, the psalmist writes: “Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me. Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.”
Though the writer probably wasn’t in an actual prison, he or she manages to convey a sense of what it’s like to be incarcerated. Perhaps the most descriptive phrase is “desperate need.”
Prisoners find themselves in desperate need.
Think about it. If you’ve never been in a jail or prison, it might be hard to imagine having your personal possessions and clothing stripped from you, your arms and sometimes legs shackled, being led into a sterile, high-walled facility surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers, being placed in a cramped cell containing only a bed and a toilet, the door clanking shut behind you.
Imagine the loneliness, isolation, claustrophobia, even panic that would set in. And with it, the heavy sense of utter hopelessness. Especially if you are facing a long or life sentence.
Whether or not you believe in God, at that moment, the lowest moment of your life, you might consider calling on Him – if only with the slight, very distant possibility that He is real and could hear your prayer.
At that point in time, in that terrible place, your need would truly become desperate.
While God doesn’t cause pain and emotional anguish, He can and does use it as a tool to draw people into relationship. “You will seek me and find me,” He promises in Jeremiah, “if you seek me with all your heart.” Faced with long terms of captivity, many choose to seek Him.
The freedom He offers through Christ transcends bars, walls, and shackles. The freedom God offers can be found anywhere and lived anywhere – even in prison.
Because inmates are so open to hearing the Good News, it is critical for them to have access to God’s Word.
Howie can testify to this. While serving a twenty-year sentence, he was placed in solitary confinement. He had no human contact and had nothing in his cell but a stainless steel bed and a toilet – both of them bolted to the wall. Howie had no personal possessions, no books, no TV… Nothing to do and no way to occupy his time.
His first day in solitary, he noticed something shoved behind the toilet. It was a “Free on the Inside” Bible. While he had no real interest in it, he began reading it out of sheer boredom. During his four months there, he read it cover to cover five times, and by the time he was finally released from that cell, he had surrendered his life to Christ and was a different man.
Howie is not alone. We regularly receive letters from prisoners all over the United States and around the world, describing how God used His Word to give them hope.
For instance, an inmate in Colorado writes: “My name is Howard. I am in the Douglas County corrections. I recently found the Lord through your Bible – ‘Free on the Inside.” I’m currently here because of a weapons charge. Plus I believe I am here to find God. Your Bible has already helped me in many ways. I enjoy how easy it is to read and the layout seems to speak right to my heart.”
Another writes: “The Bible has been a great help to me when I’m feeling depressed and hopeless. Reading Scripture reassures me that I’m not alone and whatever circumstance I’m in now, God has always been right there by my side through thick and thin. I feel blessed to receive this Bible and to be given strength, love, and hope which it provides me with on a daily basis.”
We also receive countless requests for Bibles.
Christopher asks, “I’m just hungry to read the Bible! I have to do 16 months in prison and have no way to get any money. So what I’m asking is can you help me out with a Bible?
An inmate from Louisiana says, “I’m 48 years old and currently being housed at the Caldwell Correctional Center. I received a Bible from Richland Detention Facility and have worn that Bible out. The cover is held on by VO5 Shampoo and Conditioner stickers and the pages I just keep sticking back in with they fall out. I have worn it out because I love the Bible.”
Michael asks, “Can you please send me a Bible? Since coming to prison, I have turned my life over to God. I have no family to help me. Can you please send me a Bible that will help me with my walk with God?”
The need for Bibles in prisons is very real. So is the potential impact. God’s Word never returns void and when it is made available in prisons, lives are transformed.