A sixty year old man who was going to prison for a long time asked me last week, “Why do so many people who come out of prison talk about God so much? Do they make you go to church and become “born again?” In fifteen years of counseling people about what to expect about prison life, this was a new one on me. Although I did once explain to an orthodox Jew the difficulties he would face adhering to certain orthodox practices, I stumbled with my response. I answered the sixty year old man as best I could, explaining how he wouldn’t be pressured to attend church or become a fundamentalist, but noted his observation was correct. Many inmates do get much closer to God when they are in prison, and often talk about it when they leave. Some making it their life’s work, i.e. Chuck Colsen.
The man’s question lingered with me. I thought more about it. I think part of what is called “Courthouse conversion” is brought about by the stripping of all attachments that an individual has — freedom, money, and often family and friends. Added to that is a process and a life that eliminates any concept of ego and self. Without attachments to the material world and no ego left to get in the way, an inmate is more receptive to the voice, message, and presence of God.
Now I don’t suggest anyone go to prison to get closer to God. Satan resides in prison I assure you. But we can learn from courthouse conversions. When we approach God we often start with our own self intact and put our own desires first. God is merely part of our overall equation, something we add to our life in some degree and as long as he doesn’t get in the way with our self and desires. We have it backwards. Instead, we need to live each day consciously listening to his voice and letting our new self — the one God gives us—come to life.