Last week BBC’s Panorama programme exposed the shocking abuse alleged to have taken place at G4S-run young people’s prison, Medway Secure Training Centre. The abuse of boys that was alleged in the programme included excessive force in restraint, pressing forcibly on a child’s windpipe, humiliation and bullying. It was extremely upsetting to watch vulnerable boys being treated in such a way by individuals that are employed to be responsible for them. It was also startling to then hear those same staff members bragging about the level of physical force used against these boys.
This shocking treatment of young people demonstrated no recognition of their humanity; gave them no worth or value. Dehumanising people – viewing a person as less than human and removing their individual worth – is the attitude that facilitates and fuels this type of treatment. Philip Zimbardo, in his book The Lucifer Effect writes, “Dehumanisation is one of the central processes in the transformation of ordinary, normal people into indifferent or even wanton perpetrators of evil”. Dehumanisation sets the idea that there are those who have little or no value, that don’t deserve to have rights, and even deserve the poor treatment that they receive.
The Bible tells us that God knows each one of us individually: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13-14) and that we are so valuable to God even “the very hairs on your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7). In His love for us Jesus “became human and made his home amongst us” (John 1:14), He knows us in all of our humanity, is able to identify with us and loves us completely. In fact, Jesus’ love for us is so great that He came to die for us “as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:10).
A few days after I watched the Panorama programme, we gathered our church for our weekly prayer meeting. That evening as we prayed for our local prison and for the people in the prison who can so often be dehumanised – praying for people who are fearfully and wonderfully made, for people whose very hairs on their heads are numbered, for people that Jesus came to die for – God gave us eyes to see those in our prison system as He sees them, as fully human. As the Church we can proclaim something so radically different to the dehumanisation of people in prison: we can declare God’s transforming love and amazing grace.
by Catherine De Souza