All society knows to do about criminals and prisoners is to do what they did to Jesus and to those executed with him. But God in Jesus did and does free the prisoners. Resurrection. Jesus is prisoner in our place. He is executed in our place. So that we might be free. So that we might be resurrected. “Free?” Yes, free to be with God and with neighbors and enemies the way Jesus was with God and with neighbors and enemies. But free also in and from prisons of stone and concrete.
The texts, but more critically the lives of Jesus and the prisoners admit of no demythologizing, no re-mythologizing, no hermeneutic contortions, no theologizing about symbolic or other hidden meanings. Jesus proclaims freedom to the prisoner. That is the good news in its first-fruits. Men’s crimes against God and therefore against society are taken up, they are assumed by the imprisoned and executed Jesus. Jesus in our place. But we in His. Free. Resurrected. So why not “free the prisoners?” God has. All of us, inside and outside prison. “Worldly standards have ceased to count in our estimate of any man” (2 Corinthians 5:16). So what could the “prisoners” freed do to us that we are not already doing to ourselves? Murder us? Pervert us? Steal from us? Use us? Lie to us? Is not the freedom that Jesus means the very option to humanity that the murderer, conspirator, dope-pusher and user, sodomist and thief cannot find in the prisons and the paroles of society?
. . . It is not to oppose “reform” of prison life, but to overcome prison, to preach and live the good news of freedom to the prisoners as a first-fruit of freedom to us all.
We cannot blot out Christmas and Easter. Jesus became a criminal and prisoner of society and was executed for us. All! Everyone! When we call him Lord! Lord! we are therefore calling upon a Lord who was and is a prisoner. . . . We cannot take refuge in our law-abidingness, our good citizenship and economics, for our Lord was himself executed as a criminal and thus brings freedom, resurrection, to them.
Will Campbell, “Good News to Prisoners,” in Writings on Resistance and Reconciliation (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2010), 24-25.