Escaping the Inner Prison

Corinthian Avenue Penitentiary, Philadelphia, PA

I once worked outside this prison as a street worker in North Philadelphia. Young gang members and I played “stickball” on the lawn outside the prison wall. I thought then that the prisoners were inside, and that the gang members were headed for the inside. The rest of us were free…on the outside. Now I see it differently.

We’re all in prison. Yet we’re free. We’re in the prison of deregulated corporate capitalism.We’re back in the Roman Empire, where Paul and Silas were thrown in prison because they dared to interfere with the free market. They freed a young slave-girl who had been put on the street corner as a fortune-teller. She lived on Main Street; all the money from her fortune-telling went to her slave owners on Wall Street.

By rescuing the slave-girl, Paul and Silas were challenging the morality of the prevailing economic system. So the folks from Wall Street seized them, dragged them “into the market place” before those in power and the judges — who were in the hip pocket of those who owned the marketplace and the market — beat them and threw them in prison for advocating “customs and practices” that were unlawful, according to law of the Roman empire. It’s all there in the New Testament Book of Acts. It was unlawful to be moral, unlawful to mess with the economy of a free market.

After beating them to a pulp, the judicial system ordered the jailer to lock them up in the most secure part of the prison — “the inner prison.” It’s always “the inner prison” — the one in our own hearts and heads — whose walls are the thickest. The people who challenge prison security are put in the “inner prison” — solitary confinement.
As Paul and Silas sang and prayed “at midnight” from their inner prisons and all the others were listening, there was a kind of earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison. All the prison doors swung open and everybody’s chains fell off! Everybody’s! And when the jailer woke up to what was happening and drew his sword to commit suicide, Paul and Silas declared that he, too, had been set free from the prison he had guarded.
In September-October 2008 an earthquake rocked the foundations of deregulated corporate capitalism. The earthquake, of their own making, shook the prison walls owned by the big investment brokerage houses and the big banks and AIG, and the inner cell doors had begun to swing open in the hearts and minds of the American people.
But instead of leaving the prison, we stayed in the “inner prison.” We rebuilt the prison, gave the keys back to Wall Street, and chose three square meals a day, a roof over our heads, some chump change for candy and cigarettes, numbed ourselves TV entertainment, and gave the slave-girl back to her owners so we could all dream about a different future. We rebuilt the Wall Street Prison.
What to do? For me, this is a matter of faith. I’m still an inmate of the Wall Street Prison, but my “inner prison” is free. I’m going to keep singing out loud at midnight about human freedom from the prison economy of a deregulated corporate free market that is anything but free. I’m going to walk out of that inner prison by taking my chump change out of the big banks that give $1,000,000 bonuses to the very people who foreclosed on the family of that slave-girl, and I’m transferring all it to the local credit union which belongs to the people. Then I’m going to invite everyone else to do the same.
I’m going to join Paul and Silas and song-writer Timothy Frantzich until everybody’s chains fall off and all the prison doors swing open.
Questions for comment and discussion:
  1. What is “the inner prison”?
  2. How does “the inner prison” work?
  3. Do you agree, in part or in whole, with the commentary?
  4. Where do you agree and disagree?

I’d love to hear from you. Others would, too. Thanks for coming by.

14 thoughts on “Escaping the Inner Prison

  1. Pingback: Inner prison | Everythingturb

  2. Yes, this is Christ-like, this discussion of our prisons and the sins of our system. I sing in ways that I can, and often feel frustrated with myself that I don’t do more. I must remember that I have certain gifts to offer, but not all of them. I find that my greatest inner struggle in addressing the terrible inequity spreading from our nation throughout the world – is my fear.

    That is fear for myself, my future, my ability/inability to affect the world around me. Fear for the wonderful young people I see on the campuses who are trying to do the right thing, struggling hard, worried about their future. What will their lives be like in 10 years?

    Fear that all the dystopian futurist novels I read in my younger years will come true. Fear for the children, bright and beautiful. What will their lives be like?

    I struggle with anxiety and fear. The precarious nature of America and the world offers plenty of fuel to my fears.


    • Hi HMB, We’re in a strange era. Things are changing but the more thnings change, the more they seem to stay the same. That’s a great fear for me. The mess we’re in is institutional, systemic. It won’t change without challenge and alternatives. Our hearts are the seed beds for the birth of that challenge and change, but we feel soooooooooooo small and beside-the-point. It begins, don’t you think, with courage – facing down fear and walking through the anxiety – and joining hands with others in communities of transformation and with movements that won’t quit until it happens. Unmasking the powers is the most important thing we can do, I think. To remove the mask, to call things by their rightful names, is a profound power.


      • Yes, courage is key. Being scared to death, but doing it anyway. Ghandi and MLK for inspiration. And Bonhoeffer. And Mother Teresa. And Gloria Steinhem. And Gramma. And Mel White. Molly, Jan, Terry, Joan, Steve, Gordon, the girl with all the tatoos, the gray-haired and bent woman who takes her protest post on the Marshall Avenue bridge every Wednesday, the man in north Mpls who will not give up on the youth there.

        Yes. Standing together, singing in harmony, sharing strength and courage.

        Thank you. I needed that additional perspective.


  3. My wife and I belong to two federal Credit Unions. Banks have always seemed greedy and difficult to work with – so, I generally ignore them! As free spirits and world wanderers, life for 60 + years has been incredibly exciting and full of wonder (It still is!!)…….but then, we are both Artists
    and Teachers and I am, additionally,and a Graduate level Environmental Biologist.

    Still, the serpent in paradise threatens all that I love!
    Yes, there is another way. The Gwichen of the far north Alaskan Arctic have traditionally known that, ” if you can’t carry it or put it on a sled….you don’t NEED IT”! Now that is quite a contrast to our modern American life style that so many seem to think is the norm! Don’t you think that materialism and greedy accumulation might actually be the problem (if not an outright “evil”)?
    Cut loose, skinny up (in what you “own”…or more probably, “in what owns you!) Life is great….but people have to get out there and live it to the fullest to understand.

    Peace…and Adventure to all readers!


    • Tje Gwitchen know what our illusions have forgotten. Thank you, John. The Gwitchen premise challenges the idea that greed is in our DNA, as some argue. It seems to me that fear lies at the base of greed in cultures that forget that the community is one’s only real security. The Western emphasis on indiviudalism also means fear, insecurity, anxiety which, then, leads some to grab and hord. Just a thought. I don’t know. One thing we both DO know: avarice has become the controlling principle of the House (the “econmy” has raised us. And, because it, rather than Gwitchens, have raised us, it seems as though it’s in our DNA.


    • Thank you, Mona. Funny thing – it doesn’t feel like going out on a limb. It’s just the way I see it as one who was educated in the Barthian and Tillichian preaching tradition: hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, and listen carefully for the “still, small voice.”

      You, of all people, will like today’s post, A Visit with Mary. Have a great day.


  4. I very much enjoyed this post, Gordon. I love the way you relate these two events to explain the “inner prison”. I too, feel “free” in my “inner prison” and long for the day when we all can be free from the prison that is Wall Street. In the meantime, I also ask the question, “what to do?” Mostly, I feel “up-in-arms” when I can’t come up with the answer. But, I know the answer is out there.

    It seems like such a vicious cycle of which is nearly impossible to free ourselves (the people). When you talk about “Paul and Silas…challenging the morality of the prevailing economic system” and the judges being “in the hip pocket of those who owned the marketplace and the market”…well…it’s like you’ve worded it so perfectly, I can’t word it myself…to describe the current state of our economic welfare. It’s very frustrating knowing there is some sort of solution out there to free the people…actually free them, but it’s not readily available. Sort of like when first starting an expert level 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle. We dump out all the pieces and have no clue where to start, because it’s just a pile of pieces that don’t make any sense. We should be spreading out all the pieces on the table, face-up, and figuring out the best place to start, making it a clear picture. Instead, it seems for so long, we’ve just given up before even attempting to piece the puzzle, and going on with daily life, ignoring the big pile of puzzle pieces because it’s too difficult to figure out.

    There is a solution (or several) to our poor economic state, I can feel it. But I don’t know what it is, so I’ll keep “singing at midnight” as often as I can. With enough people singing, we can create another “earthquake”. (And hopefully, not rebuild our past, but instead a better future.)


    • Jen, your ocmment warms my heart and feeds my mind. The jigsaw puzzle is such a good metaphor for the frustration and for how difficult it is to get our hands around this. Incidentally, Timothy Franzich is coming to lead the music at Shepherd fo the Hill April 29. I’m sure “All the prison doors swung open” will be on the pieces. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I love it. It continues and widens the converation with others who will view your thoughts here.


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