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God Behind Bars: Finding Freedom on the Inside

God Behind Bars: Finding Freedom on the Inside

by Chelsey Williams

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:10 (NIV)

Jesus came to earth to set us free. Through his death on a cross, those who believe in him are free to live the fullest lives possible with passion and purpose. As Pastor Angie Frame said in a recent message, We are free to “pursue lives of passion, to find and fully realize the purpose God has for us. And God has a purpose for everyone.” 

Everyone is called by God to live a life of freedom. Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” No matter where you are or what you’ve done, God has a plan for your life, and He offers you the freedom to live into that purpose.

Even if you’re in prison.

The Oxford Dictionary defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”

Many of us understand this definition because we live it every day. We can go where we want and do what we want, when we want to. We have the freedom to choose how we spend our time, who we hang out with, where we live and what we do on any given day. 

But how does a person live free, passionately pursuing their purpose, when they aren’t physically free? Is freedom defined by our physical ability to go and do? How does an inmate, who has been stripped of most of their freedom, live free? Is it even possible?  

To answer these questions, we went to our friends at PCC’s Nottoway campus to hear about their experience of what freedom looks like when you aren’t physically free. 

 

From John Seay:

“Well, I’d like to say it’s easy [to find freedom in this environment] based on my faith in Christ, but honestly it’s a daily struggle. I’m in a good place spiritually but I long to regain my physical freedom to spend some time with my loved ones and help those in the community. I used to say ‘I want to go home,’ but now I understand that ‘Home’ is in Heaven so I say ‘I want my liberty back.’ [There is] nothing I can do except hold onto my faith and trust the work Jesus Christ has already done on the cross for me and all who believe in Him. I try to be obedient to His commands and follow His ways, not what the world or the culture says is okay to do.

I’ve found the secret to life is finding purpose in this world. That’s why Jesus said to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. When we follow Jesus Christ and do as He showed us, we will naturally want to help others. In the process, we find purpose in this world by helping our fellow human beings while serving our Lord and Savior and awaiting His return!

When one is born again and starts applying the principles the Bible teaches, life is so much more enjoyable. In 2010 I started working in the law library as a clerk, gave my life to Christ and a few years later I started a ministry (found purpose) and continue to try to share the love of Christ with those inside these fences/walls and those in society. Named the ministry ‘Grace & Mercy On The Inside’’ because the ministry stems from the love inside my heart, and I happen to be inside a prison. The point is, no matter where one finds themselves in this life, they can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. I chose the latter.

Praying for the day when I can fully express all that’s in my heart with those in society. I’m just a follower of Jesus Christ trying to be an example of His love in this dark place. We are called to be the light in this dark world and I will continue living with the purpose of helping others.”

 

From John Hamilton:

“What is freedom? What does it actually mean to be free? Freedom is defined as the ability or capacity to act without undue hindrance or restraint. The concept of freedom in its simplest context is independence. I’m free to do what I want, how I want, when I want, because I want.

Now take that basic understanding of freedom in its truest form, and apply it to incarceration. The narrow minded often hold onto the misconception that because you’re imprisoned, so is your freedom. I personally believe freedom is something greater than just one component encompassing your physical limitations. What about your intellectual, psychological, spiritual freedoms? Freedom isn’t something tangible but rather it’s a mindset.

There are many free people in society today who are living more confined lives than I am in prison. While I may be geographically confined, I’m free to exercise my mind, my body, and my spirit. I still possess the power to choose and make hundreds of decisions a day. I choose not to be limited by a narrow focus of what I can’t do, but instead, cherish and relish all that I still can do, even while imprisoned. I’m still protected by and entitled to certain inalienable rights that allow me to be free in spite of my circumstances.

Perhaps the most liberating aspect of my life is the spiritual realm. Believing in a higher power than one’s self provides an endless supply of enlightenment that enriches the soul and frees you from the entanglements of ordinary life. Although I may be incarcerated, I’d venture to say I’m more free today than I’ve ever been in my entire life. My Lord has helped me confront, reconcile, and atone for my past. There’s no greater sense of freedom than unearthing your errant ways in exchange for redemption.

Indeed, prison can often be frustrating. When a person loses their freedoms as they’ve been accustomed to, the deprivation of one’s liberty can be overwhelming by itself. However, if you’re able to grasp the concept that freedom is a multifaceted approach with many interrelated, interconnected parts, that mindset will always set you free. I have decades to serve but in many respects I’m more free today than I’ve ever been. Don’t dwell on what’s been temporarily lost but focus on what’s been permanently found.”

 

From Frank Quiros:

“Greetings! ‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ How do I find freedom in a place where I’m not physically free?

Simple: Jesus. 

How did I come up with this answer? One of my favorite Scriptures, which imprinted on a few of the brothers in Christ here at Nottoway is this: 

‘If you abide in MY word, you are my disciple indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” -John 8:31-32

“I also draw from my personal experience of reading an NIV Bible called “Freedom On The Inside” during my first time in Albemarle regional jail before transferring into a prison correctional facility. I know my answer sounds simple, however, I’d like to illuminate, elucidate, or simply shed some light about freedom.

Freedom is a subjective condition which varies or differs with each individual because of personalized perceptions. It is subjective because it exists in a person’s mind in contrast to what is outside. It is a condition because it is a state of being or a state of mind. It varies or differs with each individual because of our personalized perceptions. One’s own interpretation of freedom may not necessarily be another’s. 

“We, as children of God, are spiritually free.  In fact, how do we gain spiritual freedom when it was there all along? Jesus showed it to us when He said ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life…’(John 14:6). It is difficult to say these words to someone who may never get out of the captivity of prison to be physically free. Yet we persevere in giving them a true and everlasting hope through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. 

“What is freedom? I’m free to move around, read, write, study, exercise and socialize with other people. I’m free to breathe the air and see the light. I’m free to seek God in everything which He so freely gave me. I’m free to laugh, cry, feel sad and experience all emotions. I’m free to go anywhere, anytime – all I have to do is close my eyes and I’m there. I am only limited by my own imagination. 

“So what is freedom? Did God give us freewill to choose good or evil and not be aware of consequences? ‘Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every work into judgement, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.’(Ecc.12:13-14). The choices we make now will dictate the outcome of our future, whether in this life or the next.” 

 

From Jonathan Moon:

“Freedom is not being confined or bound to something. Freedom is often defined by doing what you want when you want, but that is actually anarchy. Once I decided to stop ‘playing’ Christian and truly give my all to my Lord and Savior, I experienced a freedom like I have never known before.

“Though I am confined to a 6′ by 9′ cell for 10 hours a day and am surrounded by fences and razor wire everywhere I look, I have a freedom that most people on the outside have never experienced. 

“So many people on the ‘outside’ are in a prison today of their own making or by the choices they have made even though they can go where they want when they want. Only through the saving grace of Jesus Christ can these people understand what I have in my life and I pray that today is the day they die to self and put on Christ.”

 

From Tremayne Seymour:

“[To find freedom here] first, you must start by freeing your mind. The hardest thing is to move past losing your physical freedom. You need FAITH that there’s still some use for you. Then, you need HOPE that you can make a difference in yourself and others. So every day, you must get up and be the best YOU you can be. I promise the walls will begin to disappear. This is how I’ve found freedom in this situation.”

 

From Verlie Word:

“Being in an unnatural environment, I didn’t think it was possible to have freedom within these walls. Not until I began my relationship with God, and having submission to God’s perfect Word did I start experiencing freedom. I had to go to His Word intentionally, not casually, in prayer and meditation.

“Yes, I have and still go through things, and there’s times when my peace is disturbed. But the freedom that is actualized through a Kingdom perspective – through embracing God’s Sovereignty – generates a faith more powerful than anything that comes against me. It accesses God’s grace in such a way to grant and maintain this freedom that is not dependent upon externals. 

“I want to encourage everyone to read Romans 5:1-5. In short, these verses say that we will have affliction, but stand on the Word of God. We can rejoice in our suffering because God is working in those afflictions for our good and freedom.”

 

From James DeWitt:

“How do you find freedom in a place where you’re not physically free? Good question. One that we encounter from new intakes often.

“Freedom is often viewed as a possession, but freedom is an act. God allows his servants to act on His behalf, therefore, we carry the gift of freedom in our representing Him. This can’t go without application to our living. When we drive a car, it’s easy for us to have an accident because we can get distracted or lose focus for a quick second or two. That’s us being human. When God ‘drives the car,’ an accident can never happen because He won’t lose focus or get distracted like us. 

“So when we take on freedom, we can be side tracked or even have that freedom taken away. But when we have God’s Freedom, it doesn’t get side tracked and it can’t be taken away. 

“Freedom in God is liberation from the chains that get attached to us by just living life. Having His freedom is being free indeed.”

——————————————————————-

Oscar Wilde said, “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” Our brothers at Nottoway are doing far more than existing, despite their physical circumstances. Through their faith in God, they are experiencing lives full of passion, purpose and freedom.

“By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.” -Romans 5:1-5 (The Message)

No matter where we are right now, may we all find ourselves in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting praise to God.

*Special thanks to John Seay, John Hamilton, Frank Quiros, Jonathan Moon, Tremayne Seymour, Verlie Word, James DeWitt and Pastor Rob Toepfert for their contributions to this article. For more from our brothers at Nottoway, check out their thoughts on prayer


Additional Resources

WATCH: Freedom from the Past
WATCH: Freedom from Depression

WATCH: Freedom from Fear
WATCH: Freedom from Anger
READ: Freedom from Overwhelm
READ: No Longer a Slave to Fear
READ: God Said Ask for Help

Categories: Faith  Self  

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Written by

Chelsey Williams

Staff Writer and Editor

Published July 14, 2022


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