In my last post I mentioned a “spiritual experiment” in the solitary confinement unit of a Mississippi prison. In 2007, in response to a deadly summer of assault, suicide, and murder, prison authorities loosened restrictions on the prisoners. “They allowed most inmates out of their cells for hours each day. They built a basketball court and a group dining area. They put rehabilitation programs in place and let prisoners work their way to greater privileges.”
And what was the result? “…the inmates became better behaved. Violence went down.” In fact, so many prisoners were able to be moved into the general prison population, the solitary confinement unit was closed, saving Mississippi millions of dollars. And now many states are following Mississippi’s example.
I think this experiment reveals gratifying aspects of the human spirit.
First: the spiritual imagination of the prison officials. For decades we have lived in the unforgiving environment of “three strikes and you’re out,” or “lock ‘em up and throw away the key.” Yet these officials are willing to think another way and to consider the human potential in the worst prisoners.
Second and most amazing: the spiritual resilience of the prisoners. I wouldn’t have expected men who had for so long—months or years—been isolated 23 hours a day, and shackled the remaining hour of each day, to be able to bounce back at all. Yet apparently the majority did just that.
Wonders are all around us!