A common element among men in correctional facilities is the “paradigm” that they have conformed to. It is a pattern, example or model in their life that has played a major role in the in the way they think and the decisions that they make. We all receive these paradigms from our parents, teachers, role models, friends, TV, radio, our community and all sorts of other ways. When talking to many inside of prison I have noticed that most were told that they were never going to amount to anything. Some were even told that they were going to end up just like so-and-so (who was a drunk, or dope fiend, ex-con, or someone that was viewed in an unfavorable light). Somewhere along the way these men have bought into the things they were being told, and in essence became what they were told.
When I think of changing the paradigm, a friend of mine in prison comes to my mind. Kevin was a man that I used to meet weekly for a bible study early on in my ministry. He was a young man that had grown up in group homes and prisons. His father was nonexistent in his life and his mother abandoned him at age 5 when she went to prison. Over the years growing up his influences were other troubled boys in group homes, gang members, and career criminals. So naturally his way of thinking was conformed to that lifestyle, he told me when the authorities locked him up in prison for the first time he wasn’t even scared. Each time they locked him up, he would strategize how to become better at his crime so that next time he wouldn’t get caught. When I met Kevin he had just received a 20 year sentence and seemed not to be bothered by it at all. He told me once while we were talking, “Chap, I am getting another chance and I will never come back again.”
Well to make a long story short in 2013 he went back to court due to some other charges. Not knowing if I ever would see him again was surprised the other day when he came up to me as I was walking down the sidewalk at prison. He didn’t look the same. He had gained a lot of weight and his face was covered with deep sadness. He told me he had just returned back from court and asked if he could come to the chapel to talk to me. As we sat in the chapel, he began crying and said these words to me, “Chap, they gave me three Life without Parole sentences.” At the age of 29 this man’s lifestyle has now caught up with him and he had just been handed down the sentence in essence death inside of prison. There is no longer getting another chance to perfect his crime, the court said prison is now his life till he dies.
Not just Kevin but many in prison realize that prison is the bottom of the barrel, they didn’t plan to spend the rest of their life in prison, they never wanted to become what everyone told them they would become. But thank God this isn’t the end of the story for some. It is in this desolate place where many call out to God. It is where they surrender their lives to Jesus, the One who paid the price for our sins, not after they decided to do better, but while all of us were still in our sin. Romans 5:6 “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” This is where the paradigm begins to change. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 God goes as far to say that they become a “new creature”; someone that never existed before. Their past no longer exists in Gods eye! They become justified which means exonerated, not guilty, just as if they had never sinned, before God. They are no longer failures but sons of God! God is not mad at them and He has not cast them off. Prison does not cancel out the purpose that God has for their lives. They are not without hope nor are they without help. The paradigm has begun to change!
Friends I am always encouraged when I see these men rise up out of their sin and find hope in God. When these men take their eyes off of their circumstances and get them on God. It challenges me to do the same. Where in our lives are we still stuck following an old paradigm, living life in sin and according to man and not after God. If we are in Christ we are no longer sinners, so let’s live in victory! We need not to worry what man says about us but only what God says about us. I tell the men at prison all the time, that when their thoughts about themselves change, their actions will change, and their circumstances will transform right before their eyes. Their circumstances won’t seem so huge and overwhelming anymore. You see friends our new paradigm is the Word of God and we as Christians ought to get in it and get it in us and see the salvation of our God. Pray for the many men inside of prison who are still living in an old paradigm. Pray that Kevin and others like him would see their need for a Savior and call out to Jesus while there still is time.