In early April, Christian hip-hop artist Lecrae visited a South Carolina prison, performed six songs and testified to his faith.
Fifteen months ago the event would have been almost mundane, but since then COVID-19 restrictions have prevented Lecrae from ‘hanging out’ with prisoners, as he had previously done with less social distancing after a performance organized by Prison Fellowship.
“We sometimes do it outside the security fence and maintain that separation with the men or women inside,” said Prison Fellowship President James Ackerman, describing a “hopeful event” being held. by the ministry at an Alabama correctional facility in September.
Lecrae’s visit this month was a sign that some prisons have started allowing more in-person religious activities.
“As conditions have improved state by state, some penal institutions and prisons are opening up for visitors and the ministry,” Jim Forbes, director of communications for Prison Fellowship, said in a statement to the Religion News Service.
It comes as Prison Fellowship – the largest nonprofit in the United States serving incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people, and their families – celebrates Second Chance Month, aimed at raising awareness of the challenges faced by prisoners. people with a criminal record.
The virus has spread through prison facilities, where social distancing is often not an option, infecting prisoners at a rate three times that of Americans outside prison walls, according to a recent report. of The New York Times.
Over the past year, nearly all state-run facilities have temporarily shut down outside visitors to help slow this spread, according to the Prison Fellowship website.
But as vaccines become more widely available and states begin to ease these restrictions, high-profile Christians like Lecrae, Justin Bieber and Churchome pastor Judah Smith were among the first to resume their visits.
Second Chance Month was first recognized by President Donald Trump in 2017. President Joe Biden issued a similar statement this year, recognizing April as Second Chance Month.
“By focusing on prevention, re-entry, and social support, rather than incarceration, we can make America a land of second chance and opportunity for all,” the report read. Biden statement.
Prison Fellowship celebrates with a number of virtual events, including a prayer service last Saturday and a replay the day after its Second Chance Sunday worship service with music by musicians from the New York mega-church Hillsong East Coast and a sermon by Pastor Jon Kelly of West Chicago Bible Church. He also created resources to help churches across the country organize their own second chance services.
Lecrae joins the organization for a number of events. Among them, a virtual gala on April 29, where Bryan Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just mercy, is also expected to speak.
Lecrae, whose father, he said, was in jail and released from prison, first became involved in Prison Fellowship in 2019 and has performed in several prisons since then, including the event of the April 2 in South Carolina.
In a recent interview with Religion News Service, Lecrae said, “Knowing that they are still human, knowing that they have dignity, worth, that God created them, fearlessly and wonderfully,” the brought to the prison ministry.
Bieber, whose latest album is called “Justice”, was reportedly arrested by a California prison at the end of March at the invitation of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, along with his wife, Hailey Baldwin, and Smith. While there, they reportedly spoke with members of the Urban Ministry Institute, a prison seminar program, and Bieber announced that he planned to charter buses so that family members of inmates who were kept away by COVID-19 can come and visit them.
“It was a life changing experience that I will never forget,” the pop star said in a statement to ABC News Radio. “It was such an honor to listen to their stories and see how strong their faith is.”
Evangelical Christians have embraced prison reform as a cause in recent decades under the influence of Charles Colson, a former aide to President Nixon, who came to the faith while serving seven months in Maxwell Prison in Alabama for Watergate related crimes.
Colson founded Prison Fellowship in 1976, and the organization has worked with every jurisdiction since President Jimmy Carter. He was instrumental in shaping the First Step Act, a law passed in 2018 that focused on reducing recidivism, the number of people who leave prison to return to detention.
More recently, the Prison Fellowship supported the Equality Bill, which would reduce disparities in cocaine sentences that punish black Americans more harshly than white Americans.