FAITH NEWS SERVICE – Fred Winn had the sort of job that would make for interesting conversation at a dinner party. As a librarian at a prison, he has come in contact with some very colorful characters. At the same time, he has also heard and seen the saddest of stories, including the unfair treatment of Black and poor people of all races in America.
In For The Least of These: Reflections of a Prison Librarian, Fred details stories from his time at Soledad State Prison in the Salinas Valley of California, a prison that houses three thousand inmates.
Each inmate had a tale of woe, which explains the circumstances leading to their confinement. That’s three thousand unique stories.
The term ‘for the least of these’ is not just a catchy title for a book. Fred’s occupation has allowed him first hand to see how the lack of support for the marginalized sees many men enter – and become stuck in – the prison system. Referring to the 25th Chapter of Matthew, as well as other parts of the Bible, he is critical of many in the ‘Christian community’. He says some elements of it openly support political figures that spout racist, hateful rhetoric and tell blatant lies contrary to the Master’s teaching.
“The Bible teaches us that ‘God is Love;’ the one and true God that we worship loves justice. We serve a God of mercy and grace,” Fred states.
“God’s Word clearly defines how Followers of Christ should treat others. The Bible commands us to Love God with all of our heart and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. However, many Christians appear to be secret followers of Christ. They ‘serve’ Christ undercover. Others (neighbors, friends, etc.) are unaware that they are members of the Faith Community. Their actions, do not reflect Christ in their lives.
Fred says that some Christian leaders teach that members of certain political parties are not Christians. Some appear to filter their faith through a political lens instead of their politics through biblical principles. As a result, many elements of the Christian community support political leaders that advocate marginalizing, demonizing, and denying public support to people on the edges of society, in other words, ‘the least of these.’
Fred would know. His role over many years has seen the fruit of this. What is outside the walls of the prison does not offer them a lot of hope either, so re-offending thus becomes very high.
In this fascinating book, Fred traces the backlash experienced by African-Americans by many members of the White Christian Church to the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s (in the United States) and compares that reaction to the present-day Black Lives Matter Movement. Many churches opposed the goals of the civil rights movement, and today many Christians cannot even utter the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ and instead state ‘All Lives Matter.’
A Fred reflects on his life in prison employment, he interweaves his thoughts on how Christians must both love and look after those on the edges. He encourages us to be part of the solution, not contributing to the problem.
“As Christians, we are not to be undercover, as many appear to be,” he says. As noted, “one would never suspect many who identify as Followers of Christ as Christ’s followers. Neither their language nor deeds reflect Christ’s teaching.”
As also noted, “some view their faith through a political lens rather than shape their political views through a biblical lens. This group often believes that membership in a particular political party or a specific position on a culture war issue is a prerequisite for those bound for Heaven.”
These are some of the assumptions the author challenges in this book, inspiring him to pen his first manuscript. As he says, the Christian faith is not just rhetoric, but a life of actions and deeds. God is not calling for cultural warriors. Faithful followers are to be fully engaged daily and wholly embrace the teaching of Christ.
For The Least of These: Reflections of a Prison Librarian also contains stories from the inmate’s viewpoint, explaining the circumstances leading to their confinement. These stories are partly gritty and funny; some are uplifting, while others are sombre. In any case, readers will be interested in how many of the inmates ended up in prison. But it’s not just an entertaining read; this book will help Christians grow in empathy for those who find themselves in this unenviable position.
Fred has a B.A. Degree in Political Science and African American Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a post-graduate degree in Library Science from the University of California, Berkeley. He retired from the California Prison System after 25 years of employment.
For The Least of These: Reflections of a Prison Librarian, published by Ark House, is now available globally.