I have a friend who was caught in a terrible life situation. She ended up being convicted and sent to federal prison. First, in Illinois and finally at Alderson. On this day in 1927 the Federal Industrial Institution for Women, the first women’s federal prison, opened in Alderson, West Virginia. All women serving federal sentences of more than a year were to be brought here. Most of you remember this as the prison where Martha Stewart spent time for “insider trading.” I can tell you when I went to visit Alderson, it was still a prison. You wait, you go through the check point with other family members who travel long distances for a short visit, you go to a holding area, you visit, and then you leave these rolling West Virginia hills for a speck of a town that has seen better days.
Each of the prison’s buildings is named after social reformers. It’s located atop 500 acres of picturesque rolling hills. When it was opened the prison was described as a “fashionable boarding school” – it’s a prison. The intention was that the overriding purpose was to reform the inmates, not punish them. The prisoners farmed the land and performed office work in order to learn how to type and file. They also cooked and canned vegetables and fruits. My friend also learned a trade and worked with the chaplain and longed for home. But it was still prison. Originally the vast majority of the women were imprisoned for drug and alcohol charges imposed during the Prohibition era. Today the sentences vary and the description from an insider was that it was no picnic.
Many of us struggle with our own self-made prisons. We are held captive by our past or fear of our future which paralyzes our present. Jesus said, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, (Luke 4:18), “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free…” You don’t have to go to prison to know you need freedom. Faith gives you freedom to be who God made you to be. It doesn’t mean you will be free from struggle or wrestling with life’s difficult decisions. It does mean that you will find meaning in the midst of the struggle and hope at the end of them.
So to my friend – enjoy your freedom now and remember the words of Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Let’s all use our freedom wisely.
Vol 4 #38