Visiting Happy Prisoners
PRISONERS are usually unhappy. You can understand why, for you certainly would not like to be deprived of your freedom and your association with family and friends. Especially so if sentenced to years in prison.—Compare Matthew 5:25.
History, though, tells us of some happy prisoners in Philippi, an ancient city in northern Greece. They were the apostle Paul and his companion Silas. They were in that prison because of their Christian worship, yet the Bible shows that they happily “were praying and praising God with song.”—Acts 16:25.
In September 1982, two ministers from the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York visited another Greek prison. They met with over a hundred devoted Christians who were also happy.
The visit was made to Avlona Military Prison, a modern complex about 50 kilometers (31 mi) north of Athens. Though it is for all types of military prisoners, recently a sizable part of the inmate population has been young men who are ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why are they in prison?
These Witnesses were imprisoned because they hold fast to beliefs similar to those of early Christians. (Isaiah 9:6; 2:4; Matthew 26:52) A Short History of Rome by Ferrero and Barbagallo states: “Even in the second century, Christianity had affirmed that ‘it is not right to be a man of the sword, . . .’ and that ‘a son of peace, whom it becometh not even to engage in a litigation, should still less take part in a battle,’ had affirmed the incompatibility of military service with Christianity.”—Page 382.
The imprisoned Witnesses in Greece usually receive a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence. After spending six to eight months in Avlona, the remainder of their sentence is served in other prisons, where they are also treated well and with respect.
The ministers visiting Avlona were cordially received by a senior military officer of the prison. While hospitably sharing some Greek coffee with his visitors, the officer commented on the fine conduct of the young ministers. They are respectful and trustworthy. In fact, they have been made responsible for the kitchen and food storage.
The officer kindly showed the visitors around the prison, including some of the quarters where the Witness prisoners room. Depending on the space, four or more Witnesses might room together, making it convenient for them to have a library of Bibles and related study material. The prison has basketball courts and football fields that are open to all prisoners, but the Witnesses are particularly appreciative of another facility. They have available a large (150-seat) room used exclusively for their weekly Christian meetings. Despite its being mid-day, the 101 Witness prisoners were allowed to meet with their brothers from Brooklyn and share some upbuilding spiritual fellowship.
The two ministers also visited some rooms where samples of the beautiful artwork the prisoners did in copper, wood, wool and oil paint are displayed.
Though developing artistic skills is satisfying, the Witness prisoners gain particular happiness from studying the Bible, gaining deeper insight into its principles by which they live. And each day that they do gardening or other such work it counts as two days of their sentence. They can thus work toward an early release. Then they will have the greater freedom to share with many others the good news they have learned from the Bible. Certainly it is good news to learn that God will soon eliminate all suffering and oppression from earth. (Revelation 21:4, 5) At present, “all creation keeps on groaning together and being in pain,” as the apostle Paul mentioned at Romans 8:22. But the Christians imprisoned for their beliefs at Avlona know that all who faithfully serve God can look forward to the time when “creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.”—Romans 8:21.
As the two visitors departed, they carried away from Avlona fond memories of devoted young men who are happy to serve God under any circumstance and who are determined to increase their public praise of God as soon as they are able.