Prisoners in Illinois, Mississippi and Louisiana have endured stricter lockdowns due to COVID-19, but thanks to the Christian ministry Koinonia House, professing prisoners have received spiritual encouragement.
Since March, prisoners in Illinois and other states have been in lockdown, said Koinonia House Executive Director Manny Mill to The Christian Post. Mill knows prison from the inside. He became a Christian while hiding from the FBI in Venezuela. When he found God, he returned to the United States, turned himself in, and served two years in prison.
“Very few Christians care for the prisoner. Most of our churches don’t even mention it, when in fact the Bible is filled with it,” he said. “When you think of the characters in the Bible — Joseph became a prisoner; Moses became a killer; King David was a former rapist and a killer; Abraham was a pimp and a liar; and Paul was a serial killer.”
People always struggle in prison, Mill said. But constant lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions on the few freedoms prisoners have made it even harder.
“It’s very unusual,” he said. “Usually, [prisoners] have [freedom of] movement. Depending on the level of the facility, even in a maximum-security they have movement. The movement may be guarded by an officer, but they have movement. They can go to the yard, to school, to a religious service, they can go to eat, but in this time all of those things have not happened.”
Prison means constant surveillance, he said. Officers counted Mill seven times a day during his own time in prison. To endure difficult conditions in prison, inmates depend on following a routine.
“Lockdowns take you out of your routine. Prison is all about routine,” he said. “If you get locked down in a situation like this with the fear that you can die, it will bring a complete disruption to your routine. Fear can set in. It can also paralyze you. That’s where people commit suicide.”
Lockdowns create a prison within the prison, he said.
“Officers go out to the parking lot and get a gun from their car and blow their brains out. It can bring you to the point of despair. And then you have no hope. If you have no hope, you have no life and no reason to live,” Mill stressed.
COVID-19 blazes through the prison population four times faster than it goes through the rest of society. Prisoners can’t escape the disease.
Since the pandemic began, more than 270,000 prisoners and more than 59,000 correctional employees have been infected with the coronavirus, according to the COVID Prison Project.
To give hope to these prisoners, Koinonia House created DVD videos that prisons could play for inmates. They also hosted online services that prisoners could attend by Zoom. Their most recent video, titled “Dare to Hope,” features worship music and testimonies from former prisoners on how they found Jesus. Mill’s group also donated soap, shampoo, coats, backpacks and books to prisoners.
A former prisoner named Eddie testified in the ministry's video, “It was there in prison, where I rededicated my life to the Lord. The Bible tells you in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that if any man be in Christ, he’s a new creation. It was that scripture that resonated in my heart.”
When he became a Christian, his desires to do evil things left him.
“There is nothing too hard for God. Nothing too hard for God,” he declared.
Mill said his ministry does not refer to prisoners by their last names to avoid attaching them to the shame of their crime.
Koinonia House finds various ways to help prisoners because group members love prisoners, said Mill.
“Love is creative,” he said. “When we face a challenge, when we face a test, when we face a trial, love always triumphs. We have to love creatively. We have to find a way of loving.”
On Thursday, Mill led a discipleship group of 36 people at Compass Church in Wheaton, Illinois. Ten attendees were on Zoom, some of whom were current prisoners.
Mill asked one man in prison for life, Joachim, to lead the closing prayer. Prisoners often feel lonely and forgotten by the outside world, Mill said.
“If you’re a man [in prison], your wife will usually divorce you. Half of the men in prison never get a visitor. About 35% of them never get a piece of mail. They feel that they are forgotten. When they watch these videos, they know that they are being remembered. It’s good to be remembered. That’s why we send out Christmas cards,” he said.
The Church often doesn’t obey Jesus’ commands to care for and visit prisoners, Mill lamented. Jesus said that His followers will be known because they visited prisons when others didn’t. But most churches never even talk about prisoners.
“We are the Church. We are commanded by God’s Word to be a voice to the voiceless. We cannot forget the prisoner,” he said. “Therefore, if we’re going to proclaim a credible Gospel, we have to include that Jesus Himself became a criminal. We must live a Gospel that includes the prisoner.”
Christians can help prisoners by reading their Bibles and asking God to make them more compassionate, Mill said. Then they can work with local Christian groups that work with prisoners.
“Become sensitive. Become less judgmental. Know and think that everybody can make it to prison,” he said. “When you bless the prisoner, God will open the gates of Heaven for you. That is when you make God the Father the happiest.”