“I was in prison and you never visited me”

Matthew 25:43

Covid-19 has been described as indiscriminate because every race, gender, faith, ethnicity and nation has experienced illness and death as a result of it. It highlights our common humanity and vulnerability. Reflecting on this over the past few weeks, it led me to think that “indiscriminate” is not an adjective I’ve ever heard applied to God. And yet He is utterly indiscriminate in His love for us. If we stray, He still loves us. If we stray very badly and even end up in prison, He doesn’t wash his hands, say “Don’t know what happened to that one” and terminate us. He carries on loving us – and He asks us to do the same!

It is worthwhile taking a few minutes to think of how frustrating we have begun to find the curtailment of our liberty even though we recognise its necessity. But we have ways of ameliorating the situation that our ancestors suffering plagues, pestilences and epidemics couldn’t even have dreamt of. We take the smart phone, let alone its rather more pedestrian predecessor, the ”land-line”, for granted and we can set up virtual meetings with our relatives, loved ones, friends and colleagues on Skype, Zoom and Teams with such ease that we even begin to think that we don’t want to back to the world as it was seven weeks ago!

But spare a thought for those in our prisons – most of which are overcrowded and in most of which prisoners are confined to their cramped cells for 23 hours a day. Visiting was stopped in March, work and education followed. The chapel is closed and there is no internet access. Attendance at close-family funerals is no longer possible. Given that there’s a substantial lobby in the country at large for lifting the lock-down because of the risk to mental health, try and imagine how much more acute this risk is in prison. The fact that the virus hasn’t proliferated exponentially to make the whole prison estate moribund is a tribute to the governors and their officers who themselves are facing the same problems and dangers as are faced on the “front-line” in the NHS and care homes etc.

Many still think prison is “easy” and “too good” for some people. Would that some of their reflections on their loss of liberty over the last few weeks might, instead of focusing on the Hang Sen, Dow Jones and FTSE, have led them to think about it in a different way.

Whether they are so led or not, when the lock-down is eventually lifted there will be a situation in our prisons about which Mega-prayer will be required. Those prisoners who have families and loved ones will be able to see them again. That very fact poses a huge difficulty for those who do not. Now might be a good time to read Matthew 25 again.