Religion Behind Bars: Building Community During COVID-19

In this excerpt from his journal, Magical Charlie wrote about his experience with COVID-19 restrictions in a Pennsylvania prison:

March 22, 2020

After they nixed our outside volunteers, our Sunday night Prayer & Share group was kaput. On the 19th we’d been told that all religious services in the education building were cancelled. For a population that’s already isolated, losing these social events is an internal earthquake. The library is one place that acts as an information hub. From Thursday to Saturday I was able to talk to Kairos Prison Ministry members on nearly every block. I told them we needed to meet on our own in the block yards at our normal time on Sunday night. I don’t know how it went for everybody else but our meeting tonight was electric. A. Bomb was our sound tech. He donated his keyboard for use as our amp and speakers and set it up. 20 guys made a circle. We each stood a couple feet apart from the next man. I thanked everyone for coming and was just starting to break down the format of how our service would run when the gate cracked open and C/O sauntered up. I thought he was going to break up the party before it started but he said he just wanted to make sure nobody was getting stabbed. We thanked him and asked him if we could pray for him. He declined and exited stage left. I got back to business. We hit the tunes and sang “Awesome,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” and “Count Up All the Cost” together.

The guys across the way in the other block yards complained that we shouldn’t be allowed to gather like that. He ignored them. Nicodemus prayed for us. Wayne counted us off by 4s. We broke down into groups and sat at the picnic tables. We shared our lives, our hopes, and our fears together for a half hour or so. Each table group wrapped by praying The Lord’s Prayer together. We circled up again. Randy read a passage from Habakkuk* and reminded us that our God is faithful and in control even when life feels terrifying. Caleb led the group in a rendition of “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place.” And it was.

The experience was sublime. In the midst of the pandemic we got the attention of our world for Jesus Christ. What a privilege it is to be able to offer Him as the answer to the suffering we’re all going through. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

*Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

If you have any encouraging messages for Magical Charlie, send them our way. We’ll pass them along.


  1. Faith Behind Bars and Beyond strives to answer God’s call to minister to God’s people in prison and to those affected by incarceration. God bless to all of us.

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