Christian History Institute

Sharing our story of faith across the ages

items tagged with prisoners

In Context

  1. The prison was made a palace for me.
    Vibia Perpetua (ca. 180–ca. 202), in Acts of the Martyrs.


16 Aug 2017

“God is here, deliverance has come, and there is hope”

by Eric Dickerson and Matthew Harper | Issue 123

Eric Dickerson is incarcerated in Pennsylvania and hopes to be released in the fall of 2018. He has been writing to CHI staff for more than a decade.

As we look into the Scripture we clearly see that once people come into the presence of Jesus, that’s when their lives were transformed forever. They then set about glorifiying Christ. … The Holy Spirit is comforting me, teaching me, and/or purposing me for something. We shall see. To God be the glory. All that I know is that time spent with Jesus is life transforming. Whom the Son sets free...

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9 Aug 2017

Recommended resources

by the editors | Issue 123


There are many books about the history of prisons and punishment . Some of the most helpful include Anthony Babington, The Power to Silence (1968);  Blake McKelvey, American Prisons (1977); Nicole Hahn Rafter, Partial Justice (1990); Richard Bauman, Crime and Punishment in Ancient Rome (1999); Mark Colvin, Penitentiaries, Reformatories, and Chain Gangs (1997); Norval Morris and David Rothman, eds., The Oxford History of the Prison (1997); Scott Christianson, With Liberty for Some (1998); Adam Jay Hirsch, The Rise of the Penitentiary ...

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9 Aug 2017

Joys and challenges

by Jim Forbes, Christiana DeGroot, Joe Roche, Jack Heller, Susannah Moore | Issue 123

Jim Forbes is media director at Prison Fellowship.

For more than 40 years, Prison Fellowship has been going into correctional facilities, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those behind bars, and offering the hope of true transformation. Through the use of Bible-based programming and with the help of thousands of committed volunteers, lives are being changed, hope is being restored, and darkness is being replaced with the promise of a future.

At the same time, we also envision a safer, more redemptive society. With the help of our...

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9 Aug 2017

“To God alone we cry and weep”

by Katharine Evans and Sarah Cheevers | Issue 123

Quakers Katharine Evans (d. 1692) and Sarah Cheevers (d. 1694) were held by the Maltese Inquisition from 1558–1663. These excerpts are from A True Account of the Great Trials and Cruel Sufferings Undergone by Those Two Faithful Servants of God (1663), a collection of their papers and letters from prison compiled by Daniel Baker.  

From their account of their imprisonment:

Now in short time after we were taken Prisoners, we were stung with Flies called Muskatoes [mosquitos], in our faces and our heads, as we lay in our Beds, that were...

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9 Aug 2017

“I shall be patient”

by William Tyndale | Issue 123

William Tyndale (1494–1536) translated the Bible into English, illegal in England since the days of John Wycliffe. After over a year’s imprisonment, he was tried as a heretic by imperial authorities, found guilty of Protestant beliefs, and executed (though the translation, as such, was not on the list of charges). This letter, from  winter 1535, addressed to the governor of Vilvoorde Castle where he was  jailed, is the only writing in Tyndale’s hand still extant.  

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9 Aug 2017

“Keep my fur cloak in memory of me”

by Jan Hus | Issue 123

John Hus (c. 1369–1415) cared nothing for talk of reform when it first came to Bohemia, but became impressed with the truth of much that the reformer Wycliffe had written. Following his change of heart, Hus became zealous for Christ. He was invited to the great Council of Constance, which ousted three popes and made a new one. Promised safe conduct to the council by the emperor, he was instead imprisoned and subjected to an unfair trial, then burned as a heretic. These letters are among the last he wrote from prison.  

I, Master John Hus , in...

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9 Aug 2017

Crime and punishment

by the editors | Issue 123

6 00 BC: The earliest prison we know of through archaeological evidence is built, the Mamertine Prison in Rome. It will be the imprisonment site of both Peter and Paul.

450 BC : The Law of the 12 Tables of Rome refers to the possibility of imprisonment for debt. 

399 BC : Socrates is imprisoned and executed in Athens.

30s AD : John the Baptist, Jesus, and various apostles are imprisoned as Christianity is born and spreads.

Before 313 : Christians are imprisoned and executed during times of persecution, most famously under Nero (64),...

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9 Aug 2017

Paradoxes of prison

by Dan Graves | Issue 123

Jerry McAuley (1839–1884) committed every crime short of murder. The Irish-born young man caused so much trouble as a teenager that his grandmother (who was raising him) sent him to relatives in New York City, where he became a street fighter and a “river thief.” Eager to get rid of him, residents of New York City’s Fourth Ward swore he had committed a hold-up, though he always maintained his innocence. He was sentenced to 15 years in Sing Sing Prison.

“Punishment never did me a particle of good, it only made me harder,” he wrote in his...

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8 Aug 2017

Thinking long thoughts

by Catherine Barnett | Issue 123

“What else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?”

These words from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (1963) might have been penned by any number of imprisoned Christians since the time of the apostle Paul. Innumerable letters, thoughts, prayers, poems, hymns, and novels have been composed under some of the worst conditions possible—many, like King’s letter, becoming classics that continue to exhort, comfort, and inspire readers...

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8 Aug 2017

Christians on trial

by Dwight D. Brautigam | Issue 123

How do Christians end up in prison? In many cases their beliefs are at odds with the prevailing government, they are arrested, and they are put on trial. From the earliest days of the church, followers of the Way were tried before Jewish and Roman authorities: not only Jesus himself, but Stephen, Paul, and others. Peter and Silas escaped their famous imprisonment the night before they were to be tried. 

a hymn to christ as to a god 

In the early second century, we find one of the first records outside the Bible of Christians on trial before...

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8 Aug 2017

“I am hoping God will answer your prayers”

by Apostle Paul | Issue 123

The very first letters we have from an imprisoned Christian are from the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Ephesians, the Philippians, the Colossians, and Philemon while under house arrest. 


When I think of all this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the benefit of you Gentiles. … fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you...

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8 Aug 2017

Prison as a parish: Christian inmates

by Roy Stults and Jennifer Woodruff Tait | Issue 123

Ever since jesus Christ was arrested and tried before Pilate, imprisonment has been the experience of many who follow him. Seldom are Christians imprisoned only for religious beliefs. There are often ethnic, social, political, or cultural reasons. And some Christians, sadly, are imprisoned for actual crimes. 

when in rome. …

Ancient Romans believed in gods who oversaw and protected various areas of life. Not showing respect and loyalty to these gods undermined the security of the state; when early Christians proclaimed one God as supreme,...

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8 Aug 2017

Editor’s Note

by Ken Curtis | Issue 123

In 2008, our founder Dr. Ken Curtis (1939–2011) wrote the introduction to a planned book of prison testimonies throughout church history. That book became CHI’s website Captive Faith , but Ken’s introduction was never published. We could not think of a better way to introduce this issue than by letting Ken do it. We also encourage you to look at Christian History issues 105, 109, and 116 for more about Christians in prison. Our commitment to prisoners continues to this day, as we mail free copies of CH to hundreds of prisoners each quarter....

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8 Aug 2017

Letters to the editor

by various | Issue 123

Many incarcerated individuals receive Christian History, and although we have published their letters before, we decided this time to feature their voices exclusively on our letters to the editor page.


Dear CH , I am greatly enjoying your series on the Reformation. The extensive timeline pull-outs are a wonderful bonus. Please keep me on your subscription list! I am an indigent inmate and I am grateful for your generous gift. God be with you. I am curious if you have ever or soon plan to do an issue on the phenomenon of...

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8 Aug 2017

Did You Know?

by the editors | Issue 123

From Joseph to John to Jesus

Many people in the Bible spent significant time in prison. The biblical record speaks of both their painful imprisonments and their ultimate trust in God. Examples include

• Joseph (Genesis 39–41) was put in prison for the false charge of assaulting Potiphar’s wife.

• Samson (Judges 16) was imprisoned by the Philistines for his activities against them.

• King Manasseh of Judah (2 Chronicles 33) was held captive by the Assyrians, an experience that led him to repent his previous policies.

• Jeremiah (Jeremiah...

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15 Nov 1991

Who Am I

by Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Issue 32

While in prison in Berlin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote his famous poem “Who Am I” that begins, “Who am I? They tell me….”

Unfortunately we are not able to reproduce it here because we do not have web rights. You can read it in full on page 15 of the original magazine or on page 13 of the reprint.

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14 Feb 2004


by the Editors | Issue 81

L ife in eighteenth-century England was not for the faint of heart. Thugs ruled the night streets. Lacking an organized police force, royal authorities substituted harsh penalties ruthlessly carried out in dramatic public ceremonies. More vigilante justice than due process, the system condemned even petty pickpockets to hang.

Economic conditions worsened crime. London streets teemed with 20,000 to 30,000 hungry, disaffected apprentices—some reduced to stealing bread.

In a William Hogarth engraving from 1758, one such “idle ‘prentice”...

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30 Nov 1987

From the Archives: A Letter From Prison, in Tyndale’s Own Hand

by William Tyndale | Issue 16

The only known writing in Tyndale’s hand still extant, this correspondence came from Tyndale sometime in the winter of 1535, as he was imprisoned in Vilvoorde Castle. It was addressed to the governor of the castle, that very Marquis of Bergen to whom Lord Chancellor Thomas Cromwell had already appealed on Tyndale’s behalf. It appears here in Tyndale’s hand, along with a printed transcription of Tyndale’s Latin and an English translation of that Latin. Note Tyndale’s respectful tone and concern for the governor’s spiritual well-being, and...

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Blog Posts

1 Jul 2017

Let Freedom Ring


Today is the Fourth of July, and I'm remembering a moment two years ago when I stood outside a prison door, realizing how freedom can catch hold of people in rancorous places. But I had to get up close before that realization hit home.

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  • Paul the Apostle $11.99

    Paul the Apostle

    • DVD
    • 145 Min
    • Drama
    • 1
    • 2004
    • Lux Vide

    From the Emmy award-winning director Roger Young (Joseph and Jesus) comes the spectacular story of Paul the Apostle. This augmented adaptation, largely based on the biblical account, profiles Christ's most prolific messenger, Paul, originally known as Saul of Tarsus, was at the forefront of efforts to stamp out the early church until Jesus stopped him on the road to Damascus, forever changing his life and mission. He joyfully faced persecution, imprisonment, and peril in order to share the love and redemption offered by Christ.

  • Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand $12.00

    Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand

    • DVD
    • 50 Minutes
    • Documentary
    • All
    • 2008
    • Christian History Institute

    Before communism fell in Eastern Europe, Christians were often arrested and kept in prisons or labor camps where the Communists went to great lengths to break their faith. This is the story of a family whose faith endured.

  • Torchlighters: Richard Wurmbrand Story $10.00

    Torchlighters: Richard Wurmbrand Story

    • DVD
    • 30 Minutes
    • Animation
    • All
    • 2008
    • Christian History Institute

    In war-torn Romania, there is only one way for churches to get the protection of the government: give their support and allegiance to the communists who are in control. Instead, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand chooses to speak up for Christ, thereby placing his own life and the lives of his family in great danger.