jailhouse religion

Jailhouse religion and the case of the elite national newspaper that chose to ignore it

Jailhouse religion and the case of the elite national newspaper that chose to ignore it

Today's post falls under the general heading of "jailhouse religion."

Speaking of which, a story I wrote on a Texas woman who might have gotten away with murder — but became a Christian and turned herself in — was published this week.

GetReligion's own Mark Kellner described it "as an incredible true crime, confession, redemption story superbly told." I didn't even pay him to say that. So feel free to check it out.

End of shameless plug.

Back to our regularly scheduled analysis of religion — and holy ghosts — in the mainstream press: Today's focus is a Washington Post profile of a redeemed bank robber.

Catholic media professional Thomas Szyszkiewicz tipped us to this haunted story:

There's talk of "redemption" (it's even in the title of his book). His parents were pastors who founded some (unnamed, generic) church. He's teaching at a Catholic university (OK, we won't get into the discussion about how Catholic it is or isn't). There were moments of "grace," etc. What's missing? 

Um, could it be religion?

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Jailhouse religion in Lone Star State's toughest lockup raises church-state question

Jailhouse religion in Lone Star State's toughest lockup raises church-state question

Before I became religion editor of The Oklahoman in the early 2000s, I covered the Oklahoma prison system.

I crunched numbers on the state's increasing parole rate, witnessed Oklahoma's first execution of a woman since statehood and did a narrative feature on "a typical execution day."

But even on the prison beat, I managed to touch on religion in a few stories. One of my most memorable involved a cemetery where forgotten inmates are buried:

McALESTER — Song 176 in the "Baptist Hymnal" flaps in the whistling breeze as five men clad in jeans and light blue inmate shirts surround a pine box.
The simple casket, made of fresh, light wood that reflects the leafy shadow of a cedar tree overhead, contains the remains of Richard Arnold Picha, 61, Oklahoma inmate No. 086428.
The inmate pallbearers and two prison chaplains have come to remember a man they never met.
"Pass me not, O gentle Savior, hear my humble cry," they sing, their emotion-filled voices riding the wind to the cloudless blue sky. "While others Thou are calling, do not pass me by."
This four-acre cemetery, which inmates long ago named "Peckerwood Hill," serves as the final resting place for Oklahoma prisoners who die with no place else to go. It sits a few hundred yards northeast of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Between 12 and 15 inmates a year are buried here, said Bob Jameson, a state Corrections Department spokesman in McAlester.
Picha's grave will be the 615th since the cemetery opened in 1913.

Fifteen years after trading the prison beat for the Godbeat, I still find stories about "jailhouse religion" fascinating (as, apparently, do a few others — my GetReligion post last year on Jeffrey Dahmer keeps drawing a few hundred clicks a month).

That lengthy intro leads me to the point of this post: an exclusive Houston Chronicle story on inmate baptisms in Texas' supermax prison.

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Believe it or not: a holy ghost in New York Post exclusive on Jeffrey Dahmer's killer

Believe it or not: a holy ghost in New York Post exclusive on Jeffrey Dahmer's killer

On its front page Tuesday, the New York Post touted an exclusive interview with the fellow inmate who killed serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer two decades ago.

Yes, I know it's shocking to hear that the Post produced a piece of tabloid journalism. And somewhere today, a dog bit a mailman.

But stick with me for a moment, and I'll explain my reason for highlighting this story. There really is a GetReligion angle. Promise.

First, let me share the Post's graphic lede:

Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was done in by his uncontrollable lust for human flesh, the man who whacked him in prison 20 years ago told The Post, revealing for the first time why the cannibal had to die.
Christopher Scarver — who fatally beat the serial killer and another inmate in 1994 — said he grew to despise Dahmer because he would fashion severed limbs out of prison food to taunt the other inmates.
He’d drizzle on packets of ketchup as blood.
It was very unnerving.
“He would put them in places where people would be,” Scarver, 45, recalled in a low, gravelly voice.
“He crossed the line with some people — prisoners, prison staff. Some people who are in prison are repentant — but he was not one of them.”

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