We are All Criminals

Excerpted from the Chaplain's Report,
February 1948

Some have looked askance at me for my assertions that I preach the same sermon for inmates as for non-inmates. I am certain that the need for "salvation" is fundamentally the same whether one is in prison or out. I also feel that salvation is as rare outside the prisons as it is inside them. I have no feeling that our prisons house all the corrupt people or that all the men in prison are corrupt. There are "criminals" in our civilian congregations althought they are not "convicts". In reality we are all criminals and constantly commit crimes against life and property on a scale that is so subtle and esoteric that we are oblivious to our own guilt. The sociological division of society into a "criminal class" is a delusion of significance. A close examination of the "class" reveals that it is a practical impossibility to draw a line of exclusion wherein the sheep and the goats are divided. The more one feels he deals with a peculiar and unnatural group in the men of an institution, the more deluded he is and the more ineffective will be his work with them. Such attitudes do not escape manifestation in terms of arrogance, superciliousness, condescension and self-righteousness on the part of the would-be-worker. Inmates, as others, are sensitive to this ill-advised snobbishness and feel justified in reacting against it.

The basic adaptation necessary for dealing with inmates is the understanding that they are not outcasts of the human race in any legitimate sense and are basically the same as all men. Any other assumption leads to a manifestation of conceit in the worker and requires that his work remain highly superficial or that he intensify the symptoms of the men by awakening their immaturities and insecurities through his own overbearing demeanor.

In other words, one should never assume that his accusations towards others are not appropriate for himself. Their guilt is my guilt. I, as an indifferent member of the community, contribute to their desparation and to their crime. Unless I know this I shall walk among them as one too guileless to be soiled by sin -- and I shall be among the dirtiest of the lot....

Even as the same profound message of salvation is equally needed by all men irrespective of temporal and spatial variances, so the message is equally timely and appropriate at all seasons and under all conditions. It is not the message that needs to be subordinated to the seasons, but the seasons that are to be subordinated to the message and made to resound in the glory of God. Thus, the truth of God is never at a loss for turning a season or a condition into a remarkable and significant symbolism for the religious. These days of the calendar, seasons of the year, and historical events are all grist for the mill of Eternal Truth. A genuine religious adjustment is such that no episode is without spiritual significance and timeliness. It becomes natural to use these occasions to serve as expendable instrumentations for relaying religious truth. That is the only purpose for phenomena in the final analysis. All things have meaning only in God. Without this ultimate Common Denominator reality appears as chaos and anarchy; with this ultimate Common Denominator all things work together for good.