Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Does Forgiven Mean Forgotten?

As one who has worked in jail/prison ministry for many years, including interviewing such notorious criminals as Charles "Tex" Watson of the Manson Family and serving as editor for the personal memoirs of David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz (both now dedicated Christians), I am concerned at the controversy over the fate of those who become believers after being convicted of a serious crime.

I have heard the argument that if a person has been forgiven by the ultimate Judge, he should no longer have to face the full extent of his punishment and that somehow leniency is in order because the person has truly repented and been born again and is no longer a threat to society. I have also heard the argument that "jailhouse conversions" aren't worth the so-called paper they're written on and should therefore have no bearing on a prisoner's sentence.

There is merit in both arguments. I, for one, believe jailhouse conversions--if they are truly conversions and not dramatic attempts to gain freedom from incarceration--are as legitimate as conversions that take place anywhere else. I also believe that the One Judge over the universe, before whom we will all one day stand, has precedence over human law. Whether or not we believe someone is "worthy" of forgiveness is irrelevant. If God declares it so, then it is so.

But does being converted and spared eternal punishment after we die automatically preclude our need to pay the price for our crimes on earth? Does being forgiven by God mean our sins are forgotten by the world? Not at all. Though the change that comes from being born into God's family may impact the way others perceive and relate to us in this world, as well as the way we spend whatever time we have left on this planet, it does not necessarily change the conditions of our earthly sojourn, whether we are inmates convicted of crimes against society or simply individuals living in various life situations. As many inmates I have spoken to over the years and who have become believers while incarcerated have told me, "I have the joy of knowing I will go to be with the Lord when I leave this place; until then, I will serve wherever God has me--in prison or otherwise." Those prisoners who have experienced true conversions also know that prison walls and jail cells cannot prevent them from being free once the Son of God has made them "free indeed." They also know that many outside the confines of correctional institutions are in prisons of their own making, refusing to repent and be set free.

That said, may I suggest that you consider reading my latest novel, My Son, John, from Sheaf House, which deals with this very subject. This poignant, gripping story of heartbreak, loss, and unconditional love will challenge you to walk in a level of freedom you may never have considered before.

You can find out more about the book, watch the accompanying video trailer, and order a copy directly from my website,

Blessings, beloved, as you walk in the freedom that has been purchased at such a costly price!


  1. Kathi,

    I have personally known two people who experienced "jailhouse conversions" but then once they got out, they threw it all out the window and went back to their old lives. However, I do believe prison ministry is a wonderful thing and our church has such a ministry. I believe that, as with any ministry, we need to plant the seed and then pray that God takes over and that the seed will grow. I haven't read My Son John yet, but it's on my TBR list!


  2. I've been in prison ministry since the mid 90s, including a 3-year stint with First Baptist Dallas's prison ministry, at the time the largest local-church-sponsored prison ministry in the world. We had a correspondence program that touched over 7,000 inmates in 700+ units across 44 states. Now I have my own prison ministry that includes discipleship correspondence, plus chapel and revival ministry as a gospel chalk artist/musician.

    Jailhouse conversions are like any other conversion. Some are genuine; some are not. And while it's true that many inmates struggle after they are released, it isn't necessarily because their conversion wasn't real. It's easy for them to live the Christian life when they're in a structured environment where all their needs are taken care of and they have no responsibility. Once they are back outside, they face trials and difficulties that would be unimaginable and daunting for most of us. Often they must face these alone, with no support or encouragement.

    That is why aftercare is the cutting edge of prison ministry. We need to encourage and support these men and women when they are released, so that they can continue to walk with Christ and can be a testimony to others.

    James H. Pence

  3. Kathi, thanks for your insightful blog today. I have also been involved with prison ministry at one time when I lived in Oklahoma. It's not for the faint of heart.

    I've seen both sides of the coin: prisoners who were truly transformed and others who manipulated people with their conversions. Just as James said, "Jailhouse conversions are like any conversion."

    Not many people know that within the last year my younger brother was sentenced to 13 years in prison for committing armed robbery.

    I have forgiven him for all the years he lied, deceived, and bullied members of our family and his own children. He was a drug addict, and although he claimed to be born again, he could never kick the habit. Drugs ruled and ruined his life. I have forgiven him, but I haven't forgotten the pain inflicted on so many.

    I know my brother regrets his actions. So I pray that he will finally find the peace that passes all understanding inside prison walls that he couldn't find on the outside.

  4. I have never been in prison ministry -- and probably will never be. But I have an appreciation of those who are.

    My former son-in-law is currently incarcerated for the murder of his three children and an unsuccessful attempt on the life of my daughter.

    In wrestling with forgiveness, I have discovered several things. One is that God alone can excuse the offense of murder because the life that was taken belonged to Him and to no one else.

    I can renounce anger and resentment against my former son-in-law. I can absolve him from payment. But I cannot tell him that "it's okay." That is God's call -- not mine.

    My part is to agree with God's decision and learn to see the offender through God's eyes, grieving over a child that has strayed.

    Every action carries within itself the seed of it's own reward or punishment. God seldom allows a crop failure of our actions.

    Whether a jailhouse conversion is real or not, it doesn't eliminate the consequences of the action that landed the person in jail in the first place.

    God will use His children where ever they are. And they are free in Him whatever their circumstances.