Further evidence of changing times

A recent Star Tribune (Minneapolis) article underscores changes in the field of corrections regarding how mail is delivered to inmates. The article, titled “Paper and Ink Spelling Trouble,” chronicles some changes that are being pilot tested and debated in Minnesota and elsewhere. The objective of the procedural changes is to reduce the influx of liquid drug formulations dripped onto the paper of a letter, magazine, or other item mailed to an inmate. The correctional facility in Stillwater, Minn., is experimenting with photocopying all inmate mail and delivering the copies to the inmate. But there are drawbacks. The reporter states: “In Stillwater, this test is adding hours of work for [a correctional officer] while creating an extra, even if temporary, barrier for inmates relying on photos, greeting cards, and letters to stay tethered to loved ones in the outside world.”

The article continues: “’It depersonalizes,’ said Michele Livingston, whose son, Jeffrey Young, is serving a life sentence for murder in Stillwater. ‘Already there is no contact, and mail is actually one of the best ways to communicate with someone incarcerated. It tells them it took effort and time to say something to them. Now when you get photocopies, it takes it away.’”

So, in good Lutheran fashion, “What does this mean?” There are several take-aways for us. One is a reminder to “work while it is day,” that is, make the most of opportunities to spread the gospel because those opportunities can evaporate. Doing our ministry by U.S. mail has worked well for more than 30 years, but that era may be changing.

A second take-away is the continual need to innovate and develop new ways to deliver the gospel. WELS Prison Ministry has a team working on developing viable methods for delivering pen pal letters and our Bible studies as well as receiving tests and returning them to inmates using electronic delivery. Please pray for blessings on this team’s efforts.

Finally, the article renews our conviction that the spiritual and emotional encouragement we provide through pen pal letters and test comments are personally vital to the inmates despite any photocopying. The Word of God works, even if it is photocopied first.