To the prison administration they are a number. To the fellow inmates they are called by prison nicknames that are rarely flattering or uplifting. For someone in prison who gets no letters, cards or visits (and there are many) they often have trouble responding to their own names. This strikes me as deeply sad. Oh, I understand how it happens! Their families may be deceased or they may never have known a family of their own after years in foster care or as an only child who never built a family of their own, or the families may have been worn down and exhausted by the life-style that lead to prison or they may be uncertain how to protect children from the teasing and loss cause by the incarceration of their loved one. They may even have such fear of the incarcerated person and the lifestyle of gangs or drug dealing that they are afraid to let them know where they are. Oh, I get it. At times I even encourage it where there is real danger to consider.
But still, to loose my name, to never hear "Moma" or "Mrs. C" would be horrid, but to never hear anyone speak my name, but only a number or an angry nickname. That seems devastating to me.
But God does not ever forget my name. God knows me, knows my limitations, believes in my future, loves me. This is why we bring the essence of hope to our brothers and sisters in jails and prisons when we visit or write and share our hope, experience and faith. We say they have a name, a place in the world and more importantly, a place in the heart of God.
For those on the outside, the message is the same.
Don’t fear, for I (God) have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine. Isaiah 43:1b