UNDERSTANDING NEW CHRISTIANS IN PRISON
THE REASON FOR THIS BOOK
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
This verse continually surprises me, time after time, throughout my walk with Jesus. What surprises me the most is that we become “a new creation” when we receive Jesus as our Savior. Once we sincerely ask for forgiveness as new Christians, guilt or condemnation for past sins is removed and all the old things are dead and gone away. We can look forward to learning new and wonderful things about ourselves at salvation’s door; things that we have never been able to see in the past because sin, guilt and condemnation blinded us from seeing that God loves us and gives us intrinsic value as His child..
When a son or daughter graduates from high school, or someone gets married, usually a friend or family member attends to celebrate the occasion. It is a time of rejoicing and appreciation of that person’s accomplishments. It is the same with a Christian in prison when an inmate gives his life to Christ. He is happy and very excited. He experiences feelings never felt before. These are feelings of peace, security, God’s unconditional love and a purpose for his life.
Naturally, the new Christian inmate wants to contact family and friends to let them know what has just happened in his life. Just like graduation, he wants to celebrate this wonderful occasion with his loved ones. Unfortunately, the usual response is something casual like, “Ha, I am glad to hear that” or “Well, now you are part of God’s family.” That’s it! The new Christian is left on his own to continue in his new found walk with Jesus Christ. There is basically no continuing support for these new Christians from their families or friends.
A casual response is bad enough but a response of obvious skepticism from friends or family is even worse. Many look at an inmate with scrutiny to see if he truly gave his life to God or if he is faking it. This can be one of the most harmful reactions that a new Christian in prison can experience. It puts an abnormal amount of pressure on him. At his first slip up, instead of experiencing forgiveness and encouragement to get back on track with God, the new Christian will hear comments like “I knew he was not real” or “See, wait until he gets out, he’ll be the same old person”.
Those of us in prison, who are truly trying to live as Christ would have us live, have a tremendous task just battling our inner selves. It’s hard enough for a new Christian in the outside world. In prison, it’s much more difficult. Prison life in general, is an unforgiving world that won’t allow too many mistakes. It is a world that hates, kills, steals and rapes. This world has very few morals, no self control or not even a hint of a conscience. It is a place of no trust, no encouragement or anyone caring whether you even live or die.
The world’s view of prison life comes from movies and the news media. People consider these sources to be factual and accurate, but they are not for the most part. Family members can have a loved one in prison and believe that they have excellent knowledge about prison life. In reality, they don’t. Painful situations are not discussed because inmates don’t want to discuss them. Usually, only general statements are made which do not describe the inner mind and feelings of the person in prison.
For example, I can tell you that I am sitting at my desk writing this book and many perceptions of a man sitting at a desk writing a book can come to your mind according to your environment. You could be thinking about a desk in the living room, or study. You could be thinking of a desk with a nice view through a nearby window. The facts that were omitted about the man writing a book could be the most important which need to be understood. They would provide a much better understanding of the environment or condition of the person writing the book. If one adds that there is no window, but only a cold brick wall and the writer doesn’t have the room to himself, then a much different picture begins to develop. Further descriptions would include that his roommate (bunky) keeps walking in and out of the room and distracting him. Also, there are people yelling right outside his door and making all kinds of noise and all he wants is a little quiet time to think and write. Now the reader has a whole different picture of the “condition of the writer”.
The reason I want to write about a new Christian in prison is two fold. The main purpose is to educate people in the free world about what Christian friends or family in prison are going through while serving God and growing in Jesus. Hebrews 3:3 says, “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also.” How can you, who are in the free world, know what it is like to be chained to those in prison if you’ve never taken a step in their shoes? I hope you will take some time to read this book and understand what it is like, so that your friend or relative in prison can grow in Christ with your support and live godly lives when they get out.
The second purpose for this book is to help Christians who are in prison. This book can help a Christian inmate understand and deal with others in prison. By reading this book, you can better understand how to prevent negative events from happening in your life right now. The more we understand who we are in Christ and who our loved ones are in Christ, the stronger we will become.
One of the most powerful, mind altering problems one faces in prison is distractions. Distractions can come quickly or slowly. There are good ones and bad ones. Some distractions can save life and others will destroy life. Distractions are like a bomb which will suddenly disrupt and take control of the mind. The one thing a person in prison uses the most is his mind. Distractions can cripple a person mentally from doing the things he wants to do or be. By understanding the distractions that one will face in prison, you will be able to help your friend or relative in prison to either overcome these distractions or avoid having them altogether. Christian inmates should also pray that the Holy Spirit would inspire and help them to avoid distractions like I did while writing this book.
Before going any further, I would like you to know a little about myself and what God has done and is doing in my life. My name is Eric LaBarge and I am incarcerated in the Michigan Department of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan (at the time of my writing this). I have been in prison since 1999. On July 12, 1999, I was caught on the run in Mississippi and was sent back to Michigan to await my sentencing and go to prison. All my life, I had played the church game. I believed I was a Christian since childhood, but I never lived my life for Christ. My life was far too important to me. I wasn’t about to let God have any of it. At that time, my understanding of who a Christian truly is was far from the truth.
This was not my first time in trouble. I had been in prison in the mid-1980’s for a couple of years. Also, I had been in and out of county jails a few times. During this time, I thought I was in control of my life. I was so wrong. At the beginning of this prison term, I knew it was different. I was going to be in prison a long time and there would be no easy breaks coming my way. While sitting in a Mississippi jail, God showed me how many times that He gave me a break or a second chance. It made me sick to my stomach. I realized how stupid I had been. What at wasted life that hurt so many other lives. I realized that I couldn’t afford to be without God’s grace and kindness. I needed a Savior and I needed peace in my life once and for all. So I asked Jesus to come into my life and to stay there with me. There was no turning back. God came into my heart and life and has been there ever since. Now I want to help God rebuild lives as He rebuilt mine.
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