I have been arrested more times than I can count. I have more mug shots than school photos. I have done both county jail time and state prison time. I was the kind of criminal that thought that every time I was back out on the streets, this time, I’d find a way around the law. But eventually everyone gets caught. The criminal life is a fool’s life.
Even though you’d think that after so many times in cuffs, or in the back of a police car, or cramped in a holding tank with 40 other men waiting to go to court, that I would have gotten used to the drill. But each time I had my freedom taken from me, it was devastating. It didn’t matter how short my sentence was, there was always a horrible feeling that came from finding out that my freedom was being kept from me. Anyone who came to see me probably thought I wasn’t suffering at my home-away-from-home in county blues or orange jump suit. But I was suffering.
Although it felt as if time were standing still, like the world was waiting for me to get out, each time I reemerged, life had always marched on—like it didn’t miss me at all. While locked up, I was consumed with thoughts of freedom and how I missed the outside world. Yet, every single time, the day before my release, I would begin to plan how I would take advantage of my freedom with drugs, money, and women. More times than not, those plans came to fruition—and so did my re-arrest.
It started me thinking about my freedom, as if it was up for debate, as if it could be here one day and then gone the next. Growing up, you feel your freedom is a fixture. But as an adult, all the stability was gone—especially with the life I led. One of the definitions of freedom is liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another. But that was absolutely not true for me. I had already bought the lie that freedom meant being released from incarceration. I know now that freedom has nothing to do with where you are or what’s around you. It’s inside your heart. Freedom has to do with the spiritual transformation that comes with knowing Jesus Christ and nothing to do with chains, barbed wire, or fences.
My own freedom out in the world, as I came to know it, was a nightmare because every time I was released, it was only a matter of minutes or hours before I was in bondage to meth or chasing money or women. All those things whispered in my ear that they offered me the kind of freedom I thought I wanted. They really just wanted me dead or back in prison.
Incarceration can be money, stature, alcohol, power, sex, or maybe even an iPhone. Whatever it is that keeps people from truly experiencing God is a form of bondage. In Luke 4, Jesus says that He has come to set the captives free. I’d rather be in jail with Jesus in my heart than out on the streets, high on drugs and running from the law—and apart from God.
In the Bible, it says, “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.” I stand on that promise. I want to proclaim that truth to every person in every prison in the world. So many are victims to the vicious cycle of recidivism, which is a fancy word for repeatedly going back and forth, in and out of jail. My hope is that those who are in chains would experience the freedom that comes from living in Christ, inside and outside of prison walls.
Tim Neisler is the leader for Prisoners of Hope, Rock Church's International Prison Ministry.
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