The Hope-Western Prison Education Program’s fall semester just concluded. Our 23 students are taking a well-deserved break from their studies, though the Cohort 1 fellows all promised to practice their Hebrew so they didn’t begin Hebrew II in January rusty from disuse.
The end of one semester signals a time of preparation for the next. We recently engaged in a three-day orientation for spring and summer professors. Among the topics covered included a new emphasis on trauma, how it is experienced by people in various circumstances, and how it is commonly manifested by incarcerated people. We want our professors to teach and our students to learn with a trauma-informed and resilience-focussed mindset.
“The experience of trauma among people involved with the criminal justice system is so prevalent that it is now considered a universal experience.”Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
People who teach in prison are reminded daily that their students have been subjected to a host of traumatic experiences throughout their lives. But we can also see wonderful transformations in these men — transformations that demonstrate their ability to become more resilient people — even in the face of the steady drip of traumatizing experiences that characterize life in prison.
What does any of this have to do with the conclusion of the Advent season and the incarnation of the Lord? During Advent Isaiah reminds us that A bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice (IS 42:3). A bruised reed. A smoldering wick.
Who are the bruised reeds and smoldering wicks among us?
The poor. Poverty is a leading source of trauma.
The neglected. Neglect is a strong predictor of criminal behavior.
The refugee. Leaving behind everything you know is traumatizing.
The abused. Most incarcerated people have been abused.
It’s comfortable, reassuring, and hopeful to remember Christ as a child in a peaceful manger scene on a star-filled night with hosanna-ing angels. But as we do so, let us also remember that Jesus’ life and the lives of our students aren’t so dissimilar.
Jesus was born in a barn without the material goods we’re accustomed to. Our students are impoverished.
Jesus was an outcast, abandoned by his friends in his time of greatest need. Our students are cut off from the world.
Jesus was a refugee, forced to flee his country to save his life. Modern refugees are regularly and systematically incarcerated.
Jesus was beaten, spit upon, stripped, and then murdered. Our students bear the physical scars of terrible wounds.
Our students are bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. But they are learning to become resilient. They are slowly but surely being re-incarnated as New Creatures.
Please pray for them this Christmas.