Jan Soering has spent nearly 18 years in prison. A citizen of Germany, this honors student at the University of Virginia was arrested in 1986 for the murders of his girfriend's parents. Fictionalized accounts of his case have been featured on Court TV, A&E, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic. Soering began Centering Prayer in 2000 while he was housed at a supermax prison; he converted to Catholicism in 2002. He has written two books, The Way of the Prisoner and An Expensive Way to Make Bad People Worse. The latter has been used by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, as assigned reading.
In this thoughtful paperback, Soering challenges Christians to see Jesus as a condemned criminal who was executed beside two thieves. The fact that he died a cruel death on a cross should make every believer an adamant opponent of capital punishment, but it hasn't. The mercy and compassion Jesus showed to the repentant thief should help us to rejoice in the transformation of criminals in prison who do manage to turn their lives around, but it hasn't. Jesus loved those who broke the law and those who truly were "the dead men walking" of his times.
Today, we are confronted with a gigantic prison population in America: nearly one-quarter of all prison inmates on the entire planet are housed in U.S. jails and penitentiaries, even though less than 5 percent of the world's population is American. The country has an overall incarceration rate of 715 prisoners per 100,000 citizens. More than one-fifth of all African American men aged 30 - 34 are now, or already have been locked up, and the number is projected to rise.
So little is written about Jesus and prisons, much less about the lives of prisoners. Soering has done both as he explores what Jesus had to say about criminal justice. For example, he looks at the Gerasene demoniac and then comments on mental illness behind bars. He examines the story of the Good Samaritan and then ponders prison rape. Other subjects covered include the death penalty, rough justice in the courts, and a convict's new life. Soering makes it clear that empathy, compassion, and forgiveness are at the heart of the Gospel and must be applied to the lives and plight of prisoners.