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“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” —Acts 2:4

Friday, October 9

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Presbytery of Elizabeth

New Jersey

Chris Hedges with his writing class at East Jersey State Prison Courtesy of Michael Granzen

 

Chris Hedges with his writing class at East Jersey State Prison

 

Courtesy of Michael Granzen

 

We have been buried alive behind these walls for years, often decades. Most of the outside world has abandoned us. But a few friends and family have never forgotten that we are human beings and worthy of life. It is to them, our saints, that we dedicate this play.”

So ran the dedication of the play written by the 28 prisoners I taught within the walls of the East Jersey State Prison. Their play drew on the work of playwrights such as August Wilson, James Baldwin, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Miguel Piñero, and Amiri Baraka. It was fundamentally about sacrifice—the sacrifice of mothers for children, brothers for brothers, prisoners for prisoners. But the title they chose was Caged.

The mass incarceration of poor people, usually people of color who seldom have access to adequate legal defense and often spend decades behind bars for nonviolent crimes or crimes they did not commit, is one of the most shameful injustices committed in the United States. The 28 men in the class had cumulatively spent 515 years in prison. Many of them are in for life.

The class was an intense place of reflection, debate, and self-discovery. Offhand comments, such as one made by a student who has spent 22 years behind bars, that “just because your family doesn’t visit you doesn’t mean they don’t love you,” reflect the pain, loneliness, and abandonment that mark their lives.

There are 47 congregations in the Presbytery of Elizabeth.

Chris Hedges, director of prison ministries, Second Presbyterian Church, Elizabeth

Let us join in prayer for:

Presbytery Staff

Rev. Cheryl Galan, transitional leader
Rev. Paul Rack, stated clerk
Elder Sara Burke, administrative assistant and resource coordinator
Elizabeth Quintero, administrative assistant and communications coordinator
Elder Dave Bomgaars, treasurer
Elder Terry Gleason, bookkeeper

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Sheila Robinette, PMA
Rev. John Robinson, PMA

Let us pray

God, we lift up to you the scandal of America’s penal system. Help us, your disciples, to minister to the millions of our brothers and sisters behind bars and to work to reform the system so that justice is available to the poor. Amen.

Daily Lectionary

Morning Psalms 51; 148
First Reading 2 Kings 23:36-24:17
Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
Gospel Reading Matthew 9:27-34
Evening Psalms 142; 65

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