Prison Diary: Welcoming the Guards

In my recent podcast with Luke Norsworthy about my new book Stranger God, we talk a lot about the prison.

One of the things I talk about his how your feelings get shaped doing prison ministry in your attitudes toward the guards. It's a great example of the insidious social psychological dynamics I talk about in Stranger God that make hospitality so hard.

As I described to Luke, because I spend most of my time focusing on and befriending the inmates I subtly take on their attitudes about the guards. The inmates I know by name. The guards are just anonymous men and women who pat me down, check my Bible for contraband, and buzz me through doors. We don't talk to each other much.

Plus, the guards are the ones who frequently interrupt or cut short the study for some reason or the other.

Lastly, the inmates regularly share awful stories about their experiences with the guards.

All this slowly affects your psychology. If you pay attention, you begin to notice that an association is being made: Inmate = Good and Guard = Bad. It's not a strong association, just a slight twinge of emotion. But it's enough, in the language of Stranger God, to shrink the circle of your affections.

That these association are being made shouldn't be news to anyone familiar with the Implicit Associations Test. Check out the book Blindspot: Hidden Biases in Good People.

This tilt of my affections away from the guards is a great illustration of the blindspots I talk about in Stranger God as being our greatest obstacle to hospitality.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply