I was in Michigan City, Indiana this weekend. Its one of my favorite places in Indiana and a place where the future and past of the midwest are colliding.
There are a few landmarks that dominate that city’s skyline. The Blue Chip Casino can see it from miles away, the Nipsco coal-powered cooling tower dominates and nearly ruins the view from the Indiana Dunes’ National Seashore. Lastly, Michigan City is home to the Indiana State Prison, which is home to Indiana’s letal injection table.
In a way, Michigan City might be a Methodist’s worst nightmare, a place dominated by gambling, environmental destruction, and prison injustice.
I want to focus on the prison part right now. When we got home last night, I opened up the New York Times Magazine and was amazed to see this headline, “Rethinking Prison Design.” Here is a quote from the article about this remarkable prison in Austria:
Inside the prison it felt like Sunday afternoon, though in fact it was a Tuesday. There was a glassy brightness over everything, and most surprising, an unbreakable silence. Prisons are usually clamorous places, filled with the sound of metal doors opening and closing, and the general racket that comes with holding large numbers of men in a confined space. Noise is part of the chaos of prison life; Leoben was serene. I mentioned as much to Hohensinn, and he smiled and pointed to the whitewashed ceilings. He had taken great care to install soundproofing.
The article continues but you get the point. This is a place that replaces violence with silence; inhumanity with community. The author, Jim Lewis, is quick to warn that “that the Leoben facility isn’t the Jesus Prison: It’s not going to single-handedly heal us and carry us up to Paradise.”
John Wesley and the early Methodists were concerned about Britain’s prison’s system and I bet he would be shocked to see our contemporary American one. But this prison in Austria–if we need prisons–might be a place for Methodists to start thinking about how we think about our role in this current prison madness.