Every week, I go to jail. For the past two years, I’ve been teaching classes at the county detention center as a volunteer, first as an ESL teacher and now in creative writing. It has been an incredible experience that has taught me a lot and also introduced me to some fantastic writers. The deck is stacked against these guys but through their writings, I can see that many of them truly desire to set their life straight.
As with any real life/entertainment contrast, the real world of incarceration doesn’t quite match up with what we see on screen when it comes to prisons and jails. Prison life is unfortunately a prominent fixture in American society and we see this reflected in the large body of movies and TV shows set behind bars. While I’ve only seen the inside of a small county jail, a far cry from the supermax fortresses that fictional anti-heroes regularly escape from, I can tell you that there is nothing cool or glamorous or exciting about doing time.
Of course, that doesn’t stop Hollywood. Aside from gritty modern-day prison fare (Orange is the New Black, Shot Caller, Oz), there is an entire subgenre of futuristic incarceration, most of which is violent and nihilistic (Death Race, The Running Man, Cube, Lockout, etc.) One of my favorite science fiction movies of any genre is The Chronicles of Riddick (its predecessor Pitch Black and sequel Riddick were all right, but The Chronicles of Riddick has an epic scope that the other movies don’t explore). Vin Diesel’s titular character is quite an interesting creation, toeing the line between hero and villain. I can’t say that I want him to get away scot-free, but since he dispatches folks worse than he is, my conscience is less conflicted.
Despite the sensational nature of these stories, the reality is that being behind bars is no picnic. As the so-called “prison industrial complex” expands, so do the challenges of any growing industry. Could the moon one day become the dumping ground for society’s undesirables, like in Men in Black 3? Will convicts be stored in giant warehouses with their minds in stasis as we saw in Minority Report? While the nature of incarceration may be intriguing, even more interesting (and terrifying) is why someone could be locked up in the future. Minority Report delved into the notion of “pre-crime,” while numerous Orwellian dystopias depict an all-powerful god-like State that imprisons anyone who dares question their masters (my particular favorite is Equilibrium).
There is no doubt that the world is becoming increasingly hostile towards the proclamation of the Gospel, even in our Judeo-Christian cultures. I’ve never been one to scream “The sky is falling!” when it comes to our religious liberties, but one look at the news shows us the direction in which we are heading. One day, the world is going to decide that Christians are a problem that needs to be dealt with. It’s not inconceivable that Christians could be rounded up into camps or having entire cities blockaded. Seeing all of the futuristic possibilities for crime and punishment, it’s easy to become fearful, especially for our children. Yet God promises repeatedly in His word to never leave us nor forsake us, and we are given many examples of brave Christians who held onto their faith through harsh prison sentences (and never tried to escape). Humanity continuously invents new ways to make life miserable for itself, and while life behind bars may one day become a reality for us, we must trust in God’s grace and sovereignty.