In September 2017, two inmates behind a dormitory in the so-called "Hot Bay" at the Bibb Prison with medium security stabbed another.
The wounded inmate, far from helping, began screaming, hoping the security staff would hear it. Nobody came. He then crawled toward the entrance doors of the dorm, while other inmates pushed against the locked doors and struck a bat to catch the guards' attention.
Nevertheless, nobody came.
When an officer finally arrived there, the inmate lay on the ground and blood flowed from his chest. He finally bleed to death.
"A resident of Hot Bay told us that he could still hear the prisoner's cries while asleep," the summary of the incident says.
This summary is included in a frightening 57-page Alabama detention report, which was completed by the US Department of Justice and published on April 3.
State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, chair of an important prison prudential committee and long-time advocate of judicial system reforms, describes himself as appalled at the report's findings. And from his bully pulpit in the statehouse, he preached something.
Commenting on AL.com and NPR, Ward has wondered aloud how a proud, Bible-believing state can carry such shameful prisons in its midst.
"Nobody in this condition should read this report and just roll their eyes," Ward told AL.com. "It's a shame for our state, I know everyone says, 'They're criminals' and 'Who cares?'" We are committed to the country's most Christian state, but no Christian would allow their fellow human beings to treat it that way It may not be the popular view, but it is the truth. "
In an interview with NPR on April 4, Ward said the day after the publication of the DOJ report, "We are proud to be a biblical state, a very Christian state, yet treat your fellow human beings in this way and that is clearly hypocritical. "
& # 39; eyes roll & # 39;
In Alabama, 86 percent of the population say they are Christian according to polls, and nearly half say they are Protestant Protestants. For this reason alone, Ward's comments seem to have the potential to provoke conversation and reflection in the sanctuaries around Alabama after Christians celebrate their holiest weeks on Easter Sunday.
Ward said he has not heard any response to his comments. He suggested that the prison problem weighed heavily on his heart: "From my personal perspective as a Christian, we should be more concerned with the treatment of our fellow human beings and talk about the problem."
At least one observer believes that Ward's opinion could be a bit misleading.
Scott Dawson, a youth pastor from Birmingham, who ran as Republican for the governor last year, said that the wiping should be left to the efforts of legislators like Ward to spend $ 800 million or more on building new prisons.
"The masses can" roll their eyes "under the conditions of our prisons," but there is no group of people involved in prisons larger than Christians, "Dawson said. "Boosting $ 800 million in new prisons is making our eyes wander, not the state of the prisons."
He added, "The deplorable situations described in Alabama are the result of neglect and irresponsible budgeting by our heads of state. It has caused us to be in this situation, and now the church is said to be not caring. "
Dawson, Christians serving in prisons are often motivated to do more and many churches participate in these efforts.
"As soon as a Christian deals with prisons and the detainees, they are asked to help," Dawson said. "There are many churches that conduct weekly Bible study, worship, and professional training in every state prison in our state."
Aaron Griffith, a research associate at the John C. Danforth Center for Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, said the most illustrative example of this movement was the late Charles Colson, a former employee of imprisoned President Richard Nixon on allegations Watergate era and seven months in the Federal Penitentiary of Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery.
Griffith said, "This brutal experience in the Alabama facility, along with his newfound belief in a rebirth-rebirth experience, brought him from the late 1970s to his death in 2012 to the Prison Ministry and criminal justice reform activism. "
Griffith said Ward's comments sound "a lot of what Colson would say." Colson founded the Prison Fellowship in 1976, which has since become one of the largest Christian non-profit prisoners, former prisoners, and their families.
However, Griffith said that Alabama's policy of blocking and eliminating the key has long hampered true prison reform.
"In Alabama, there are many evangelicals who serve and help imprisoned people, but it's also a federal state where criminal policy is the norm and where fiscal conservatism prevents investment in improving detention conditions or programs," Griffith said. "Evangelicals consistently support candidates who promote this policy, which leads to prison growth and the tragic conditions in them."
Griffith continued, "Senator Ward is fooling around here because Alabama's jails are clearly a shame and he expresses many of the same sentiments evangelicals have expressed regarding the humanitarian plight of prisoners in that country. But Ward and other like-minded politicians and Christian advocates of reform must realize that evangelical Christians have helped build this system, often with an appeal to the righteousness of their cause. "
Some recent surveys indicate that the government's skepticism towards Gov. Kay Ivey, a huge campaign for building prisons is very large.
A recent study by Alabama's Public Affairs Research Council shows that 58% of Alabamians are resisting the construction of new prisons to address overcrowding.
A gubernatorial spokeswoman said last week that Ivey's office is serious about taking "serious" action on the long standing challenges of the prison system highlighted in the Department of Justice's haunting report.
"No word spoken"
Wayne Flynt, a historian and author of the extensively researched "Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie," heard Ward's interview with NPR and was impressed.
"I thought Cams statement has been as biblical as any political statement for some time," said Flynt, emeritus professor at Auburn University.
Flynt said that Christianity has always struggled with the intersection of religion and politics, but he said that the modern white evangelicals were more focused on issues "which Jesus did not speak in the Gospels," such as abortion and same-sex marriage ,
Flynt said, "In short, Christians of historical and historical times only quote those parts of the Bible that correspond to their secular culture."
In Flynt's other book, "Alabama in the Twentieth Century," he remembers a story about a law student's thesis about a tax reform based on biblical and Judaeo-Christian beliefs. The student, a relative newcomer to Alabama, who would later become a professor of law, could not understand how a legislature with 136 professing Christians of 140 members could ignore the injustice of a regressive tax system and the historical neglect of the poor.
Flynt said in the book, "The answer … was simple. Legislators, like most Christians in Alabama, believe that Christian ethics consisted of private moral acts, not the creation of a just society. "
& # 39; take responsibility & # 39;
There are signs that reform of the criminal justice system is gaining more followers in Alabama.
According to the PARCA survey, where a majority of Alabamians disapprove of the construction of new prisons, 83% say that they endorse the return of people with non-violent beliefs to the community. Another 86% support extended rehabilitation and reintegration programs for prisoners.
Evangelical leaders played a pivotal role in bipartisan approval of the reform of criminal justice, also known as the First Step Act, which was signed by President Donald Trump a few weeks ago.
The law aims to reduce prison sentences for detainees who show good behavior, especially non-violent drug users.
Dawson said the bill also called on churches to "take responsibility" to help transition prisoners into society.
"We need to alert the churches in Alabama to this initiative and get the churches more involved in prison reform," he said.
Rev. James Henderson, former head of Alabama's Christian coalition, who has spent 20 years in prison, said Alabama needs to extend its work release programs to more churches, creating ministries that it believes can be effective in reducing recidivism.
"I had inmates who came to my church to work there on a Saturday and it would turn itself into a ministry," Henderson said. "Not all were adept or properly motivated, but most were. We had her for a year and it was good for us and good for her. They were not used to working in a Christian environment where people respected and cared for them. "
Michael Altman, a professor of religious studies at the University of Alabama, said that the terrible prison conditions of conservative Protestants in Alabama are generally escaping the attention of prisoners, which "reflects their greater lack of interest in criminal justice issues."
A national survey commissioned by Prison Fellowship in 2017 found that 53 percent of practicing Christians attending church services at least once a month agreed with the following statement: "It is important for someone to be an example of certain crimes, even if it means that they receive a stricter punishment than their crime deserves. "
"White evangelicals have been among the most passionate advocates of a crime-fighting and" legislation "policy, especially since the 1960s," Griffith said. "At the same time, however, some evangelicals have recognized the horrors of prison life and the need for reform."
The key is to get more of the church population in Alabama to invest more in prison reform.
"(Evangelicals) who have ventured into the prisons to serve imprisoned people are regularly shocked by what they see there," he said.