Behind each set of bars is a story.
Every man and woman in prison has a unique, complex, often painful account of how they landed in a cell. Humans of New York, a popular blog that attempts to capture the stories behind random faces in the nation’s largest city, is now going inside prisons to tell the stories of those often forgotten by society.
Over the past several days, the blog has published an eye-opening series of photographs and quotations from men and women in prisons across the Northeast.
“I tried to make some money the honest way as a kid,” said one prisoner. “I tried shoveling snow. I tried a newspaper route. I stuck with it for a while, but one day I was collecting money on my route and these older kids robbed me. And that made me feel so powerless. And I remembered that I knew someone with a knife. And I thought: ‘I’m going to steal that knife and deal with this firmly.’ I found those boys at an arcade. Nobody got killed. But I hurt them.”
His reflections show a great understanding of the human condition:
“I wouldn’t say that I felt proud after stabbing them, but I felt like they got what they deserved. I felt vindicated. Even today, I have trouble sympathizing with them…When someone wrongs us, we want the maximum amount of punishment. But when we do wrong, we want the maximum amount of understanding and forgiveness.”
Another prisoner, who has served 20 years of five life sentences, shared that going to prison has become the new normal in some segments of society.
“Crack changed everything,” he said. “So many of these young men (in prison) saw their mothers and fathers doing drugs in the street. So many of their parents went to prison. These kids were forced to raise themselves. So they aren’t about to listen to anyone. I did the same thing to my kids. My son got murdered. My daughter had to raise herself because her mom is doing thirteen life sentences.”
The stories are all unique, but common themes are poverty, traumatic experiences and difficult upbringings.
Some of the prisoners discuss the stigma of being an offender. One woman shared how her daughter only posts old pictures of her on Instagram on “Throwback Thursday.”
“She’s not ashamed of me, but she just doesn’t want anyone to see this khaki uniform. She hates it,” she said.
Here’s how another prisoner describes it: “In the eyes of society, we’ve lost already. Everyone in here is a loser. We can either be angry about it, or we can keep trying to grow.”
At Crossroad Bible Institute, we fight against that line of thinking, that prisoners are losers or failures. We engage the Church in sharing with prisoners the message that they have great value as men and women created in the image of God. Every week CBI hears from prisoners, who are studying the Bible, receiving letters of encouragement from Instructors, and discovering their worth as children of God.
At CBI, we are in a unique position to be able to walk alongside them on their spiritual journeys, often for a great length of time. We are grateful to see incredible spiritual growth in our students and get to play a small part in their stories.