Religion in prison is a very American story. In a society that defines religion in a deeplhy personal way, we also are quick to fill up our jails. America has around 5% of the world’s population, yet 25% of its prisoners. So what happens when religion and prison meet up?
Joshua Dubler, author of Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison, talks to Jeff Schechtman on Specific Gravity:
The primary thing that needs to be noted about religon in an American prison is just how much religion there is in an American prison. In the prison that Dubler studies, 12 different formal religious organizations operate, holding a total of 55 services per week. Now, it isn’t all that shocking to hear this, given the trope of religious activity in prison movies, books, and shows (consider: Les Mis, The Green Mile, The Longest Yard, The Shawshank Redemption, etc.). But, wouldn’t it come as a surprise to a naive observer of our society that the place that it keeps the supposed criminal class of immoralists, amoralists, and undesirables is full of fervent believers in formalized ethical codes.
Dubler offers a number of potential explanations for this phenomenon, each thoughtful and plausible.
One explanation is that, in a certain way, prisoners are just using religion to pass the time with what is available (remember the 55 services per week number from above). Indeed, this cynicism is a pervasive feature of thinking about religious prisoners both in an out of the prison system; Dubler notes that there is a suspicion, both of the prisoners and between them, that others are, in some sense, faking it.
But the more favorable theory, to listeners of the interview and to Dubler, is summed up when he notes that “prison is a place where you really need to know who you are.”
H/T Big Think