In January 2019, I had the opportunity to take the class “Jesus, Jails, & Justice” at Memphis Theological Seminary. The class, taught by Dr. Janel Bakker, was a weeklong immersion experience into the Tennessee and Memphis criminal justice system. In a span of 40 hours, we explored what it means to be a Christian in a world of mass incarceration, punishment, correction, rehabilitation, recidivism, and re-entry, and what God, through the incarnation of Jesus (who was arrested, tried, and executed) says to the ones society locks away.
We met with a public defender and a judge, observed proceedings in two courtrooms, talked with a Memphis police officer, visited a men’s prison, a women’s prison, the Shelby County Jail, a re-entry facility/program, spoke with chaplains, a pastor, inmates, and volunteers, as well as social justice advocates.
These five posts detail some of our experiences and some of my personal reflections on the week.
Please feel free to share your experiences, your feedback, or your questions on the criminal justice system, and how we can all be lights in a dark world.
Disclaimer: I have not been a victim of a violent crime, or an aggravated crime, and have only experienced victimhood on the peripheral and systemically. My lens for this course and these reflections are colored by this, much the same way yours might be if you have been a direct victim of a crime. Your voice matters to me as well, and my heart has no less compassion for a victim than for a perpetrator of violence. You are loved, and made whole by the One who created the world.