I read the Bible freedom oriented!
A.F.* began to study theology in prison. He was inspired to do so by the Bible he got from the prison chaplain. At his first leave from prison after five and a half years he visited the Bible Centre to thank for the Bibles and the letters that encouraged him in prison. Stephanie Moser and Kerstin Böhm spoke with him.
How is it to be outside after such a long time?
On the first day I felt very ill. Five and a half years only the same people, the same rooms...Prison is not only the walls. Prison is a cold environment, depressive, aggressive, a bad atmosphere... When you come out, you can suddenly do what you want.You are overwhelmed.You notice all the details like flowers, stones, decorations on the houses...
Did you read the Bible before you came to prison?
No, I never read the Bible before. However it was always a goal of mine to read through the Bible. I was in detention- in a room with eight others- and not much happens. I am someone who wants to use his time. I told the prison chaplain: I would like to have a Bible. I am bored.
Do you remember the first Bible that you received?
My first Bible was an old Bible; in the translation "Einheitsübersetzung" from the eighties...I sat down with the Bible and read. Sometimes two hours, sometimes twelve hours when it was possible. I did not want to just read quickly, quickly. I did not just want to read, I wanted to internalize it. In three months I had read through the Bible.
I heard of another prisoner who studied theology. When I realized that my imprisonment would last longer I thought to myself: I want to do that too! I told the prison chaplain: This interests me so, I want to study it! I was lucky to come to M. There it was possible to study. I must say that the prison management never put stones in my way. However I had to organize the material and financial support myself.
How does studying in prison look like?
I sit in my cell and learn. I do not learn by heart, but try to put everything in context. I think I am doing quite well. On my first exams I got an 1.3.average. One professor said after the exam that he thinks it unbelievable that I can perform so well under these circumstances.
Do you have any plans for the future that have to do with studying Theology?
Most plans in my life usually fail (He laughs). My plan is to finish English this year. I want to finish law and theology after my release. I would like to work in the area of human rights someday. Theology is important for that because the studies include a lot of ethics. Faith is a form of respect: I treat another person in a way that there i quality for everyone.
Could you use any of the books that you received from us?
Yes, I have already used the Bible. The rest I have ready for further use.
I also let other prisoners borrow my Bibles when the library of the prison is closed. There has not been a big rush on Bibles, but certainly a few. I let them choose which Bible they want. If someone likes the Bible with the blue cover, I tell him: "Good, take the blue one." It is important that that they receive the Bible instantly, because they feel like reading the Bible in that moment. If they do not receive the Bible maybe they will lose interest.
Do you still read the Bible for yourself at the moment or only for your studies?
Not at the moment, because I am quite busy completing three studies. I visit the Church service at the prison, where there sometimes are Bible readings. Recently I read and explained a passage of the Bible during the service. I read the Bible freedom oriented and in the meaning of the liberation theology.
Then you are already a preacher...
I do not see myself as a preacher. But if I have an experience in my life, I tell others about it.
Is it your experience that being in prison more often leads to an opportunity for people to engage with faith? Does faith have any room in the prison?
Only a few engage with faith. Atheism is very common and New Age. If someone is looking for inner peace they turn to Buddhism. There are more who visit the Buddhist group in M. than the Church services.
Do you think that the offers of the Austrian Bible Society are well known in prison?
Now for sure. I talk about it and use word of mouth advertising(laughs). Most of the time prisoners have an information deficit. They receive all information from the prison chaplain.
We are happy that you inform others about the Bible, thank you!
I once told an atheist: "Read the Book of Tobit or the Book of Judith, those are great stories. Someone even gets beheaded! Have a look. There is nothing interesting in TV today." He took one of my Bibles and read it. Then he told me: "I read it. Judith is great. She would be someone for me."
Thank you so much for your visit and this interview!
I am very happy that I had the possibility to be here.
The Bible given to A.F. is one example of many Bibles that are given to prisoners every year. Thank you so much for supporting this project! If you would like to support our prison ministry please go here!