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  • Doug Tjapkes

Can you believe it? Some prisoners are still giving thanks today!

Back in the 90s, when Maurice Carter was still in prison, he joked about the prison Thanksgiving menu that had been published to show just how well our prisoners are treated. The menu showed that they were getting a turkey dinner. Turns out it was turkey bologna, and the same old slop. Truth be told, any publicity that attempts to show exemplary treatment of Michigan prisoners is baloney. Would that menu were the worst thing to grumble about on Thanksgiving, 2020. I’m not sure how prisoners are giving thanks this week. I don’t think I could do it. But, like the Apostle Paul who wrote some of his most powerful stuff while in prison, many of these men and women look beyond their present circumstances. And that’s good, because in my two decades of work in this field, I’ve never seen anything this bad. A few days ago, the Editorial Board of the New York Times described it this way: The American penal system is a perfect breeding ground for the virus. Squabbles over mask wearing and social distancing are essentially moot inside overcrowded facilities, many of them old and poorly ventilated, with tight quarters and with hygiene standards that are difficult to maintain. Uneven testing, inadequate medical resources and the constant churn of staff member and inmates further speed transmission. Crueler still, inmates suffer disproportionately from comorbidities, such as high blood pressure and asthma, putting them at an elevated risk for complications and death. It's hell in there. I mentioned the Apostle Paul, but I’m going to dig way back into the Old Testament, where I find a prophet with the funny name of Habakkuk, showing the same fortitude of these courageous men and women behind bars. After another country had brutally attacked and ransacked his land, he sat down, thought about it, and said: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Here’s what I find amazing. Day after day, we hear from prisoners still clinging to their faith, still willing to give thanks, still thinking of others, still sending us greetings---midst the most rotten of all circumstances. Instead of giving the usual prayers of thanks this year, I’m asking that we remember the incarcerated. We are inundated with horror stories. The one thing the virus cannot destroy in the minds of prisoners is hope. That’s what kept Paul going, in the darkest hours: Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. God bless you, men and women behind bars. A better day is coming. God bless you, readers of this column. Keep these people in your prayers.

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