Light Behind the Walls by Irving W. Telfair

This editorial, “Light Behind the Walls” was submitted by Irving W. Telfair, State Prison, Helena, Georgia. To read the Gospel Today article, “The Newest Plague in the Land: Incarceration”, please order the September/October 2011 issue of Gospel Today here.

Dear Gospel Today, Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who orders our steps and directs our path. In you current issue of Gospel Today, I read with great interest how the Congress of National Black Churches is calling for church leadership to take note of and take direct actions pertaining to the disparities within the Criminal Justice System. I\’m praying this call is not too late.

Attached is my response to the article. By writing this article I hope to articulate on behalf of the many thousand prisoners within the Georgia penal system, a perspective from behind the walls. One comfort we have as Believers is that even though God is way up there and we are way down here, He knows, He sees and He cares. I hope this response will further enlighten your readers and provoke them to pray for us and demand answers from the Department of Corrections concerning their alarming prison population.


After reading “The Newest Plague in the Land: Incarceration” by Ellen Sanders (Sept / Oct 2011), I felt compelled to respond. I pray this perspective from behind the walls of incarceration will provide the Gospel Today readership with a broader insight into incarceration Light, Behind the Walls Not only is incarceration at epidemic proportions, which is negatively affecting America as a nation. Incarceration has joined itself to the African American household in unwarranted measures. You either have a family member imprisoned or know someone who does.

The curse we are currently plagued by is not foreign. The Body of Christ is just finally realizing the tormenting effects incarceration is leaving upon the family structure. The future of our African American families and communities are now being exposed to the possibility of endangerment. The statistics are alarming, your fathers, sons, and brothers are being systematically removed from their homes and communities through an unbalanced criminal justice system.

Noel C. (my fellow inmate) states, “Anyone who gets a chance to go inside any jail or prison does not need to have a degree in statistics to quickly realize that most of the inmates are African American men or women.” This striking racial lopsidedness in the prison system urges a non African American observer to prejudicially conclude that black people are generally bad people. Is the prison system sincerely trying to rehabilitate the lives of the incarcerated men and women? I don’t think so. Any comprehensive analysis of the prison system’s attempt to improve the lives of the inmates will reveal an appalling truth—that it only wants to build more prisons.

Yes, some of us are repaying a debt to society for the misdeeds of our past, our sins and trespasses against others and the law. That acknowledged, the question is for how long? Within the Georgia Criminal Justice System a life sentence jumped from seven to fourteen and now stands at thirty years before one can envision the idea of the possibility of parole. There are many behind these walls who arrived as teenagers and are now middle aged men with little hope of release after serving anywhere between twenty and thirty years. These are antiquated and unequitable policies adopted by the criminal justice system and the elusive Department of Pardons and Parole.

In spite of everything, God\’s life transforming mercy has no boundaries. Just like He produced a radical conversion in the lives of murderers like Moses and Apostle Paul, God is still arresting the hearts of men in abandon places such as prison. God called them from something towards something; a future of servitude for His glory. God has captured the hearts of men and women the criminal justice system has disposed of. His purpose, to thrust these men and women from the place of their tainted past to a place of another chance. We don’t anticipate the justice system to inevitably provide parole for everyone, but forgiveness should be the unyielding stance of the church.

After seven years of incarceration, I\’m convinced God is utilizing this place of correction to redirect the course of individual lives. From dark, lonely, and obscure prison cells men and women are meeting God in the most unsuitable of places. Prayer altars are found on concrete floors, kneeling down besides hard steel bunks. Brothers are jamming inside 8 x10 prison cells (some 6 to 14 at a time) to hear and study the Word of God. As believers we accept the chastening and correction of God because we are determined to be better men, fathers, brothers, and sons after enduring this process of spiritual growth and maturity.

Be mindful, everyone imprisoned has not arrived at this place of transformation yet, that is one reason ministry is so desperately needed in prisons across America. The Body of Christ is responsible for the spiritual edification for today\’s prison population. This a critical hour, awaiting directives from the criminal justice system is not a viable option. The place of our past is not where God sees us. He is preparing a remnant right here in the place of our present

The work God desires to accomplish in us will be visible in our future (Jeremiah 29:11). Due to God’s steadfast love, I refuse to allow my past to capture and smother my future. Our past only represents our mistakes and misdeeds, it is a witness as to where God has brought us from. Our present depicts our newness in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5: 17). Even at this juncture in our lives, we trust God’s plan to work all things out for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28)

Have you or your family been impacted by incarceration? Can there be rehabilitation without redemption? How have you seen the redemptive power of God work in the lives of inmates?