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HELPING INMATES DEAL WITH CONFLICT

(Given to a Gathering of Correctional Officers in Bermuda)

If you are like me, you often find yourself in conflict -- in family, between friends, with an employer, etc. At times, you will cause a conflict; at times you only contribute to a conflict; at times you will be a victim of another.

Inmates also have conflicts -- with God, self, fellow inmates, staff, family, victims and community. You will notice some of these in your day to day interaction with them. Should you try to help them?

Two answers occur to me: If you work within, or go into prisons, then if not you, who? And if you do not, will your job may be much harder due to unrest in the prison?

Can you help them? That is an issue of your knowledge of how to help people in conflict -- and their willingness to receive help.

Will you help them? That is a question you must answer, day by day, conflict by conflict.

So, let me give you some general understanding of conflict and of how to help people in conflict.

The Bible says that we are all sinners -- that is, we are all in rebellion against God. We constantly seek our own desires rather than seek to serve needs of others. The closer we get to one another, the more this mutual rebellious self-interest will cause conflict.

Second, the Bible says that God never changes. His way to deal with any inmate's conflict is the same as for any of your conflicts.

Third, you cannot help an inmate unless you can treat the inmate with the dignity and respect with which God treats you. The Bible says that your sins, in the sight of God, are every bit as bad as any crime committed by any inmate you will ever meet. The Bible says the wages of sin are death. But God has chosen to grant you mercy -- He has not given you what you deserve. He has treated you will kindness and gentleness, calling for confession and repentance. You need to treat inmates with such a level of dignity.

Now, how do you may help in each of 7 types of conflicts?

#1 - An inmate expressing conflict with God. Anger, bitterness, confusion, disillusionment, despair are all symptoms of this type of conflict. What can you offer? You can offer stories from your life where you felt like this man and how you found peace. (See II Cor. 1:3-4) You can gently point out to him that his anger is creating for him an inner prison worse than the physical prison in which he lives. You can refer him to a Priest or Christian religious worker who comes to the Prison. And you can encourage him with a smile, a hand shake, a good word, each time you see him -- even when he screams in rage in response.

#2 - An inmate struggling within himself. Maybe this man wants to stop smoking, or using pornography, or control his temper. Again, you can share with him the struggles of similar kinds that you have had, how you triumphed, and be an encouragement. You can suggest that he find two other men, confess his desire to change to them, ask them to pray for him and hold him accountable. The Apostle James said, "Confess your faults, one to another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed." (See Jas. 5:16)

#3 and #4 - An inmate with inmate, or inmate with staff. Here there are two major points which are interwoven with each other -- beware of, and know how to deal with, gossip; and, know the necessity for face-to-face talking between people in conflict, in the presence of other people who are prepared to speak truth to them. See Dealing With Gossip; What Is/Is Not Godly Investigation; The Path To Reconciliation; The Who, What and How of Matt. 18:16)

When an inmate begins to tell you of his conflict with a fellow inmate, or a member of staff, your job becomes to turn him from the gossip he is doing and towards a face-to-face meeting with the other. The inmate is looking for relief from the pain within him caused by the conflict -- but he cannot find relief from that pain until he talks to the one he believes caused the pain! Turn him towards that path to reconciliation, and help him along the path.

A comment as an aside: Many prisons and police departments operate on the basis of informants. I think that is wrong Biblically for it encourages gossip, avoids confrontation, gets people choosing sides without adequate information -- all of which make it harder to get the true conflict resolved -- and it encourages lying, distortion and division.

#5, 6, and 7 - An inmate in conflict with family, victim, and community. Christ said He came to set the captives free. It is in these three areas where you have the ability to help set the captive free.

The difference between man's law and God's law is that our law is punishing while God's law seeks restoration of people to God and people to one another. Thus, by the time most men pass through the criminal law system they are in massive denial. They are blaming others for what they did, and denying they did anything bad enough to warrant the punishment received. Seldom have they acknowledged to victims, family, or community that they have done anything wrong.

It is for this reason -- their denial of their actions -- that 75% of those who graduate from prison in the U.S. return within 4 years. They return to the community in fear that their sins will be discovered. They cannot face people. And people cannot welcome the inmate home for they do not know if he is repentant.

In comparison, God says that we are not condemned for our past actions. Instead, we are to confess our wrongs -- to God and to those whom we have hurt -- and then do what we can to make up for the harm caused. God promises us peace if we choose this path. (See Rom. 8:28)

That is the question -- is the inmate repentant. When you, in your interaction with an offender, sense that he is learning truth, you can present to him the path to freedom and reconciliation -- by confession of what he has done to those who were harmed. You can help him learn how to confess with excuse or blaming -- to take full ownership of his actions. (See Confession and Forgiveness)

Help him write letters of confession. If he is willing, you can approach victims, family, members of community (people of a Church can be helpful here), and invite them to come and test the spirit of repentance for themselves. If one or more are willing to come, you, or another staff person, should be present in the initial meetings to keep an orderly process.

Do you know what could happen -- for I have seen it? Victims, family and community might approach the prison officials and ask for release of the inmate! And you can applaud -- you have been a peace maker.