It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1
The sign outside the prison reads: “If you break the rules you go to prison. If you break the prison rules you go to Alcatraz.”
The Rock sits amidst the fog of San Francisco Bay. A mile or so away is the Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and the waterfront district. Prior to its closing in 1963, the inmates of Alcatraz could hear the festive sounds of revelry on New Year’s Eve as the boom of fireworks echoed across the water. But now The Rock sits idle, a cold testament to a desolate world of the incorrigible convict.
I stood in a cell on D block and imagined myself confined for years – perhaps the rest of my life — in a room the size of a walk-in closet. A toilet, sink, and bunk. This was the home of Al Capone, “Machine-Gun” Kelly, and Robert Stroud, “The Birdman of Alcatraz.”
Alcatraz served as the prison system’s prison. If a man did not behave at another institution, he could be sent to Alcatraz, where the highly structured, monotonous daily routine was designed to teach an inmate to follow rules and regulations.
At Alcatraz, a prisoner had four rights: food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. Everything else was a privilege that had to be earned. Once prison officials felt a man no longer posed a threat and could follow the rules (usually after an average of 5 years on Alcatraz), he could then be transferred back to another Federal prison to finish his sentence and be released.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, but we can lose that freedom. Alcatraz hints at what hell may be like: remote and removed from all relationships — confining and void of hope. Too often we live as if there are no consequences for our actions. As if what we do, say, and believe is our free right. But He alone establishes those “God-given” rights, and we are held accountable for every word and deed – both good and bad. That alone should scare us straight.
I sailed away from Alcatraz with a sense of relief and dread. Relief that I remain a free man. Dread because my own sin binds me in chains no one can see.
Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Accept God’s pardon and put on the blood of Christ.