Deeper Levels of Max


There are different levels within maximum security. Factors that may place someone in maximum security are: the crime committed, weapons, if violence was used, prior incarcerations, gang involvement, and so on.

The unit that I go to each week had some level of programming – at least it did until 18 weeks ago – and as many as 30 men might be out or their cells at a time for showers, recreation, haircuts, etc. The men were grouped or separated based on gang affiliations.

In my blog entry on Violence I explained that there are some inmates who are in a constant state of rage and always pose a risk to the staff, other inmates, and even themselves. Here’s an example. At a prison in the Midwest they had an inmate with a consistent pattern of violence. The man was about 6’7” and 375 lbs. He was kept in the SHU (Special Housing Unit, aka solitary) because it was unsafe for anyone to share a cell with him. Being in the SHU meant he was in his locked cell 23 hours a day. Whenever they needed to move him they would have his hands and feet chained together in shackles. There were 4 guards each holding chains connected to his feet so that, if he tried to attack anyone – which was almost every time, they could use the chains to pull his feet out from under him.


If a man in getting into fights or causing other disruptions, they can be sent to one of the other maximum security units that has even greater restrictions. In these unit only one or two men are allowed out at a single time – perhaps 3 men at once.

In the past I’ve only been to those units when we serve communion at Christmas and Easter. Only about 10%-20% of the men in those units are interested in receiving Communion even though it provides them a reason to come out of the cell.

Since it was unclear if/when the Bible studies would ever resume, and since I had been doing cell-to-cell visits for the past 18 weeks I asked about going into the other two units that are even more restrictive than the unit that I’ve been going to for the past two years. Thanks to the cooperative efforts of the administration, staff, and full-time chaplains I began my visits to those two units tonight.

In the more secure units I will not have the opportunity to meet with every man each week – only the few that are out for their recreation time when I come by. Since they would have to use their rec time talking to me I understand that participation may be rather low. Consequently, I was pleased when I was able to talk to and pray with two different men in these units, and to hand out 6 devotionals.

If it seems to tarry, wait for it

Habakkuk 2:3 (NKJV)

For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.


The last time I was able to facilitate a Bible study in the maximum security unit was 18 weeks ago.

Until tonight…

Remember that time spent in Bible study means they are giving up other uses for their rec time.

The men are getting more time out of their cells, but time out or still a precious commodity. Just being able to socialize with someone other than their cell-ie is a relief. One of the most important during this rec time is a chance to make a phone call. For those who don’t get visitors or letters this is their sole connection to the outside.


I had two men come to the group tonight. One just wanted prayer, which I did. The other wanted to do the Bible study. He wanted to do Bible study so much he gave up his telephone time. I told him I’d wait, but he wanted to do the study more.

He had recently gotten a Bible of his own and was reading it voraciously. He was already in Leviticus. We talked for a bit about what he had learned so far.

For the study tonight I had two different scriptures which seemed like they would be good compliments to his Leviticus readings.

The first one:

Matthew 23:1-4 (NKJV)

23 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

The man knew who Moses was since he’d just finished Exodus but he didn’t know who the scribes and the Pharisees were. He did know people who liked to lay rules on others but not follow the rules themselves. He also knew of people that liked making life harder for everyone else.

We talked about the games people play – “God if you let me________, then I’ll never/always ________.” Another game he and others have played with God is “God, first I’ve gotta take care of some business, but right after then I’ll be good and righteous.”

We talked about why people want to be seen as good, powerful, or important, even when they aren’t.

Our other scripture was:

Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

We talked about the phrase “heavy laden” since that is not commonly heard on the street. I recall a description of merchants in the middle east who would load their wares on donkey. They would keep it all together using netting. Then they would tie more stuff onto the netting. It would just look like a pile of stuff moving down the road – you couldn’t even see the donkey. We then talked about people who were weighed down so much by their emotional baggage that you couldn’t even see the person, you just saw their “stuff”. We had each been in that situation before.


The man didn’t know what a yoke was, but he knew what it was like to have bad shoes that made blisters, and good shoes that fit well and felt good on your feet.

Gentle is not a word that some of the men can easily relate to. If their mother was abusive or still in her addiction they may not have received gentleness, but most have observed it at one time or another.

The phrase “lowly in heart” was also unclear for him. We talked about learning how to read. A good teach would break it down until it was understandable. I had a lot of trouble learning how to read. Fortunately, a good teacher was able to help me through my learning disability by breaking it down in a way that worked for me. In the same way, Jesus meets us where we are and breaks it down for us to understand.

We talked about rest. For him the most restful time in his life was when he could come home from school, make himself a baloney sandwich, and sit and watch Scooby-Doo.


The yoke and the burden implied that there was work to do – that there was purpose. He found great comfort and encouragement in that.

We prayed together.

I was grateful to be able to sit at the table together, and to discuss how the scriptures apply to our circumstances now, and how God is guiding each of us.

Thanks be to God.




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