Serving in prisons and serving affected children

By Kristen Johnson

Louis Theroux: Miami Megajail is a documentary about life in one of the country’s most notorious prisons. Mr. Theroux presents a very raw picture of the men housed in the main pre-trial detention centers of the jail as well as the “boot camp” available for youth.

This film is incredibly heartbreaking to watch, yet very important for viewers to understand what these men are living with in prison. It’s difficult to have empathy for a large majority of the men who are alleged to have committed some of the most heinous crimes – murder, rape, armed robbery, etc. Mr. Theroux does an excellent job of simply walking around the various areas of the prison and talking to people about their situations. Viewers will learn about the sort of “code” that exists among the inmates – basically eat or be eaten, but also complete disrespect for “snitches,” lack of sympathy, and major violence.

Although the youth boot camp offered youth a possible way to improve their lives once they leave the prison, the film really shows nothing but despair and a complete lack of any form of “rehabilitation” services for any of the men. It also offers a stark reality of life on the “outside” for these men. None of the interviews offered a tale of missing out on family Thanksgivings – it is all about being raised by a grandparent due to missing parents, drug use, gang culture and gang idols, violence, and despair. All I could think about was how we, as society, have utterly failed the men in these communities. Where were the teachers, social workers, and ministers? Why are we not educating them, loving them, and providing them with employment and economic opportunities? While watching the film, I couldn’t feel any loathing for them in spite of their crimes, because all I saw was pain and suffering.

How do we help these men now, after we have failed them so miserably? How do we rehabilitate and educate them, and work with their communities so others don’t continue in the pattern of violence?

I have a few ideas to get started, though I know there is a lot more we can and should be doing. (This documentary left me feeling quite bereft so any additional ideas would certainly be welcome.)

KAIROS Prison Ministry: This wonderful organization provides services for incarcerated men, women and youth to share in the love and forgiveness of Jesus. They provide the opportunity for talks, discussions, and meditations over 3 ½ day weekend programs. Once the community is built on the inside of prisons, they then meet weekly for “pray and share” groups. My Church is a big supporter of the weekend events, and we bake cookies by the dozen for these events. (I never bake at all – with the exception of cookies for KAIROS. I always get my baking pans ready for these events!) KAIROS also works with families of the prisoners on the outside of the prisons, as well as in a youth mentoring programs for incarcerated youth under the age of 25. You can contribute to this marvelous program at:

Church Prison Ministry: Check with your local congregation about a prison ministry within your church – if one doesn’t exist yet, perhaps it’s time to start one. I looked into the prison ministry at my Dad’s Church and I am so proud that he is involved (and has been for as long as I’ve been alive). They visit prisons and hold Bible studies, work with those recently released from prison, write letters to prisoners, and work with family members. It’s a really fabulous way to show the love of Jesus to people in serious need.

Angel Tree: It’s important to remember that the one “serving time” is not the only one affected by crime. These people have families, and many of them have children. 2.7 million children in the U.S. have a parent who is in prison and it’s likely they are dealing with a lot of trauma. They provide Christmas presents for affected children, special summer camps, and mentoring programs. You can donate to this wonderful program here:

It is time to love and serve everyone, and that certainly includes those who are incarcerated.

Hebrews 13:3 (NRSV): Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.

Serve all with love.

Photo courtesy of:


3 thoughts on “Serving in prisons and serving affected children

  1. Love this 🙂 When I was in Teen Challenge many years ago, we visited the prison and had church in their chapel. It was a rough bunch and I was seriously ill but I loved that these people who had gotten in trouble came there to learn and sing. I remember sitting next to a transgender man and feeling uncomfortable. He(she) was there to learn about God too and it’s challenge for all of us to live out our faith as best we can.


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