The women with whom I have had the honor to share Christ while they are in jail do not have that luxury. Of the twenty or so women I have met with regularly, five have been released; two of those are out on bond. The other three served all of their time and are now on parole, which is still a tether to the jail.
To be imprisoned is a humbling, terrifying and life changing experience. I base this statement on my relationship with the women who are there, and my friendship with our Director at Hope Aglow, Garry Sims who served time in Draper prison in Alabama. Our founder Ed Martin, served hard time on a chain gang in Tazewell, VA. Hope Aglow was built on the reality of Christ's call to "remember the prisoner as though you were there", a passage found in Hebrews 13.
What does the Bible have to say about prison and prisoners?
"The earliest occurrence of the word "prison" in the King James Version is found in the narrative of Joseph's life in Egypt. The term used, namely, cohar, means perhaps "round house" or "tower." It seems probable that among the Hebrews there were no special buildings erected as "jails" in the premonarchical period, and perhaps not before the post-exilic period, when the adoption of the civic institutions and customs of surrounding nations prevailed. In Egypt and Assyria, on the contrary, there were probably public buildings corresponding to our modern jails. Among the Hebrews, rooms in connection with the royal palace or the residence of prominent court officials would be used for the purpose. 1
In the New Testament "prison" generally occurs for the Greek word phulake, which corresponds to the Hebrew word mishmar, - translated " prison" in the following verse-
In one passage "ward" is the rendering in the King James Version (Acts 12:10). In connection with the imprisonment of John the term used is desmoterion, "place of bonds" or "fetters" (Mt 11:2); the same word is used in the case of Peter and John (Acts 5:21,23), and of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:26). But the more common term is also found in these narratives. In Acts 12:17 "prison" renders a Greek word which means "dwelling." In Acts 5:18 the King James Version, "prison" is the rendering for another Greek word, namely, teresis, "watching" or "ward" In Acts 4:3, the King James Version employs "hold" as the rendering for the same word. This would correspond to the modern "police station" or "lockup." 1
"Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Matt 5:25
The word prison is found in the Bible 175 times, the word prisoner is found 118.
Here is an in depth study from bible-topics.com, a wonderful resource for word study.
- Antiquity of. Genesis 39:20 And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.
- KINDS OF, MENTIONED;
- State. Jeremiah 37:21 Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece of bread out of the bakers' street, until all the bread in the city were spent. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.Genesis 39:20 And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.
- Common. Acts 5:18 And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.
- Dungeons attached to. Jeremiah 38:6 Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that was in the court of the prison: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon there was no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire.Zechariah 9:11 As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.
- Were under the care of a keeper. Genesis 39:21 But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
- USED FOR CONFINING
- Persons accused of crimes. Luke 23:19 (Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.)
- Persons accused of heresy. Acts 4:3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.Acts 5:18 And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.Acts 8:3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
- Suspected persons. Genesis 42:19 If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:
- Condemned criminals till executed. Leviticus 24:12 And they put him in ward, that the mind of the LORD might be shewed them.Acts 12:4-5 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
- Enemies taken captive. Judges 16:21 But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.2 Kings 17:4 And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea: for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and brought no present to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year: therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison.Jeremiah 52:11 Then he put out the eyes of Zedekiah; and the king of Babylon bound him in chains, and carried him to Babylon, and put him in prison till the day of his death.
- Debtors till they paid. Matthew 5:26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.Matthew 18:30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
- Persons under the king's displeasure. 1 Kings 22:27 And say, Thus saith the king, Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace.2 Chronicles 16:10 Then Asa was wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house; for he was in a rage with him because of this thing. And Asa oppressed some of the people the same time.Mark 6:17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her.
- Confinement in, often awarded as a punishment. Ezra 7:26 And whosoever will not do the law of thy God, and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment.
- Confinement in, considered a severe punishment. Luke 22:33 And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death.
- PLACES USED AS;
- Court of the king's house. Jeremiah 32:2 For then the king of Babylon's army besieged Jerusalem: and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah's house.
- House of the king's scribe. Jeremiah 37:15 Wherefore the princes were wroth with Jeremiah, and smote him, and put him in prison in the house of Jonathan the scribe: for they had made that the prison.
- House of the captain of the guard. Genesis 40:3 And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound.
- Prisoner's own house, where he was kept bound to a soldier. Acts 28:16 And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.Acts 28:30 And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,2 Timothy 1:16-18 The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.
- The king had power to commit to. 1 Kings 22:27 And say, Thus saith the king, Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace.
- Magistrates had power to commit to. Matthew 5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
- PERSONS CONFINED IN,
- Said to be in ward. Leviticus 24:12 And they put him in ward, that the mind of the LORD might be shewed them.
- Said to be in hold. Acts 4:3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.
- Often placed in dungeons. Jeremiah 39:6 Then the king of Babylon slew the sons of Zedekiah in Riblah before his eyes: also the king of Babylon slew all the nobles of Judah.Acts 16:24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
- Often bound with fetters. Genesis 42:19 If ye be true men, let one of your brethren be bound in the house of your prison: go ye, carry corn for the famine of your houses:Ezekiel 19:9 And they put him in ward in chains, and brought him to the king of Babylon: they brought him into holds, that his voice should no more be heard upon the mountains of Israel.Mark 6:17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her.
- Often chained to two soldiers. Acts 12:6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
- Often fastened in stocks. Jeremiah 29:26 The LORD hath made thee priest in the stead of Jehoiada the priest, that ye should be officers in the house of the LORD, for every man that is mad, and maketh himself a prophet, that thou shouldest put him in prison, and in the stocks.Acts 16:24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
- Often kept to hard labor. Judges 16:21 But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house.
- Often subjected to extreme suffering. Psalms 79:11 Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die;Psalms 102:20 To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death;Psalms 105:18 Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:(marg.)
- Fed on bread and water. 1 Kings 22:27 And say, Thus saith the king, Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace.
- Clothed in prison dress. 2 Kings 25:29 And changed his prison garments: and he did eat bread continually before him all the days of his life.
- Sometimes allowed to be visited by their friends. Matthew 11:2 Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,Matthew 25:36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.Acts 24:23 And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.
- Might have their condition ameliorated by the king. Jeremiah 37:20-21 Therefore hear now, I pray thee, O my lord the king: let my supplication, I pray thee, be accepted before thee; that thou cause me not to return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there. Then Zedekiah the king commanded that they should commit Jeremiah into the court of the prison, and that they should give him daily a piece of bread out of the bakers' street, until all the bread in the city were spent. Thus Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.
- Often executed in. Genesis 40:22 But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them.Matthew 14:10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.
- The king had power to release from. Genesis 40:21 And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand:
- Magistrates had power to release from. Acts 16:35-36 And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go. And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace.
- KEEPERS OF,
- Strictly guarded the doors. Acts 12:6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
- Responsible for the prisoners. Acts 16:23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:Acts 16:27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
- Put to death if prisoners escaped. Acts 12:19 And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.
- Often used severity. Jeremiah 37:16 When Jeremiah was entered into the dungeon, and into the cabins, and Jeremiah had remained there many days;Jeremiah 37:20 Therefore hear now, I pray thee, O my lord the king: let my supplication, I pray thee, be accepted before thee; that thou cause me not to return to the house of Jonathan the scribe, lest I die there.
- Sometimes acted kindly. Genesis 39:21 But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.Acts 16:33-34 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
- Sometimes entrusted the care of the prison to well-conducted prisoners. Genesis 39:22-23 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.
- ILLUSTRATIVE OF
- Deep afflictions. Psalms 142:7 Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.
- Hell. Revelation 20:7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
- Bondage to sin and Satan. Isaiah 42:7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.Isaiah 49:9 That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
What are we called to do? Care about people who have made some bad mistakes and are being punished very harshly for it. They know they have messed up, but they are human beings that Christ died for and that gives them infinite value, worth and dignity. Care enough to support your church's local ministry to jails and prisons. Consider volunteering, contact us for more information on how to start a prison ministry. firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember those in prison as though you were there with them. Heb 13- If you won't go, send us. We will take a Bible and share Christ. Pray for us.