Sermon from a Cell—Preaching Against America's Prisons

August 1, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


From Stop Mass Incarceration, San Francisco Bay Area:

Sunday, July 28: San Francisco's Glide Memorial is one of the most well-known churches in the Bay Area. They have for decades been known as a church welcoming and serving the diverse population of the inner-city of San Francisco's Tenderloin District. This includes not only the diverse and colorful denizens of the city, but also those who society has cast off—many of them formerly prisoners of this system. When Stop Mass Incarceration Network, Bay Area was invited to bring our message to a special Sunday service, we were happy to accept. So, on July 28, the 21st day of the California Prisoners Hunger Strike, we joined with Pastor Karen Oliveto, as she gave a sermon on America's prisons, including the current prisoners' hunger strike against the torture of solitary confinement.

In two services, Glide's incredible band and choir had the audience of thousands on their feet. While people were dancing in the aisles, messages of struggle and inspiration were projected high on the wall. As the pastor began speaking, photos depicting mass incarceration, some from, were projected as well, and then, a cage, a cell, was erected around her. From her cage, Pastor Karen passionately addressed the inhuman treatment of prisoners, and acknowledged the death of Billy Sell, the hunger striker who died on Tuesday in the Corcoran State Prison SHU. As she paced back and forth in her cage, she first read the hunger strikers' 5 Demands, and then said, "Men in Pelican Bay are more free than most of us. They may be locked behind doors but they are not willing to imprison their spirits. They know that if they give in and accept the inhuman conditions and harsh treatment of Pelican Bay, then they will truly be in prison. As long as they are working to improve their living conditions, standing up and speaking out for better treatment, they are freer than most of us who accept the way things are as the way things are always going to be."

"The U.S. has five percent of the world's population, but twenty-five percent of the world's prison population. One in three Black males born today can expect to spend part of their life in prison. Two-thirds of former inmates will find themselves back in prison. It is a nation of shame that we have written off a whole group of young men, in the prime of their lives. It is a nation's shame that there is not more outrage in our streets, in our political chambers, and in our churches."

After the sermon many people stopped by our table to get materials, sign up, and become involved in the struggle to end mass incarceration and to support the hunger strikers.

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