It's Been A While

Well, I think it's been about a month since I last posted here. Sorry to everyone who look forward to my intermittent ramblings!

I will be speaking at a Prison Fellowship concert this coming Friday, sharing a bit about my past and how important Prison Fellowship is in the lives of those on the inside. I will also be sharing a song I wrote called "Circumstances". The premise of the song is about serving God despite the circumstances that surround us. And it is also about a special set of circumstances that surround men and women in prison and after their release... a stigma that all felons deal with.

Most people doubt the possibility that offenders can change. The reality is that 70-80% of prisoners end up returning to prison, either by violating the rules of their release or for committing new crimes. And sadly, this cycle often repeats itself over and over in their lives. And so, offenders are often viewed with suspicion. It's hard to get a job, to get housing, to get credit... Most people aren't willing to take the risk. There is even doubt among the prisoners inside, a culture that says "You can't change. You'll be back".

And this culture is especially evident when it comes to prisoners who look to Jesus to help them change. Prisoners, as well as those who work in the criminal justice system, are very aware of a condition known as "jailhouse religion". This is where offenders, for whatever reason, claim religion as proof that they have changed, when in reality they haven't changed at all. Judges and parolle officers are very aware of this tactic. And many now give no credence whatsoever to religious claims unless they are backed up by a significant history of positive behaviour.

And as a prisoner, and as an ex-prisoner, I had to continually deal with people doubting my faith, doubting that I was a new creature, doubting the work that Jesus had done in my life. Non-Christians doubted whether there even WAS a God who could change me. And even Christians sometimes doubted whether I was telling the truth, or just using religion as a scam to earn their trust. So I wrote this song:

From the valley, the summit seems so far
And clouds of sin block the view
And those around me deny that it exists
They just say that I'm a fool
To try and climb away

I've fallen further than I ever thought I would
But now I know what I must do
Serve my God like I never thought I could
But they still say that I'm a fool
To think I could ever change

Let them say what they will
I know the change inside is real
And today is my chance
To rise above my circumstances
They won't define who I am
Or how I feel

Prison Fellowship Aftercare is a hugely important ministry. They believe that Jesus CAN change the lives of prisoners, and they take risks. They trust them. They believe in them. Often when no one else will. I thank God for Prison Fellowship and the positive role they have played in my life. If you live in Portland, be sure to come to the Prison Fellowship event happening at Sunset Presbyterian Church on Friday evening, June 3. The doors open at 6pm.

Ken Bussell
Minister of Music & Administration
Our Place Christian Church

>sent via blackberry


wasmachstdugern said...

you dont have to answer, but i was curious why you spent time in prison. were you married before or after?
also: the economic straits that often force criminals to act out are often only compunded when they get out of prison! of course there is a chance people might return, but not because they want to! perhaps they go back because the support afterwards is insufficient!

Ken said...

I have been arrested for theft, burglary, battery, vandalism, possession w/ intent... finished my last bit July 25, 1997. My first arrest was burglary when I was 13. From 13 to 25 I spent over 5 years in institutions... children's homes, youth shelters, drug rehabs, 2 different county jails, juvenile corrections, and 2 adult prisons... I got married 8 years ago this month, less than six months after being released.

A lot of people go back because the system is designed to send you back. That is a parolle officer's job, to watch for people to screw up and to send them back if they do.

I'm not sure about the economics. I NEVER met a person in jail who was there for shoplifting food or stealing shoes for their kids. Most crime in my experience is based on sex, greed, anger, or addiction.

Nevertheless, the support afterward IS insufficient. I left prison with a set of clothes, $75, and a picture ID that said Indiana Department of Corrections.