Compassion: No Christmas Gifts for Prisoners?

by Larry Hehn on December 19, 2010

prisonerSome people at my office were fuming on Friday. When I asked what was bothering them, they referred me to an article in the Toronto Sun about the Salvation Army giving Christmas gifts to prison inmates. I was amazed at how upset they were. Some forwarded emails in protest, some called the Salvation Army to complain, and some swore they would not donate to the Salvation Army ever again.

All because the Salvation Army is giving small gift bags to prisoners for Christmas, as a way of building bridges between them and the community.

I like what Salvation Army’s Canadian national spokesman Andrew Burditt had to say about their program, which has been running for years: “The Salvation Army has a real focus on restorative justice. We have this belief that no one is beyond redemption. The Salvation Army serves without discrimination in every aspect across the country.”

But judging by the reaction, not everyone feels the same way:

“I am saddened by the story and feel raged to know my contributions have been going to child molesters and murderers.”

“So the SA wants us to feel sorry for a guy who has been in prison for 27 years and never received a gift? Perhaps if he hadn’t killed and eaten everyone he knows…”

“Last of my donations as they were for the less fortunate, not molesters.”

“for f*** sakes. this was the final charity i would give to because they were the ones to put the most money collected to helping the needy.. now i find they are making life easier for criminals. my donations just stopped. shove your bell up your a**.”

Whew. Merry Christmas, everyone. Thankfully, I was relieved to also see some positive comments as well:

“Christmas is a time for reflection, kindness, compassion and for forgiveness and as a Christian based organization they are doing just that showing some kindness and compassion. Some of these inmates have no family or friends and this little bag is the only thing they’ll get this Christmas. Sure, some deserve to be there, others perhaps through no fault of their own, but they are still human beings and worthy of some sort of kindness at this time of the year.”

“Christmas is a time to express good will to all people whether they be a family in need or a prisoner facing another christmas alone. I support the Salvation Army and celebrate their willingness to reach out to all people…even those some people might consider the worst. Keep up the good work knowing that there are those of us in the community who cheer you on.”

“… a lot of these crooks doing time have had a very rough life and come from environments that would make most of us shudder in dismay. I don’t think that a bit of kindness from Sally Ann is going to hurt anybody and even some of these people behind bars could use some compassion from their fellow man. Who knows, it might do them some good and that being said, God bless Sally Ann, they do some awesome work.”

What do you think?

“Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies. – Hebrews 13:1-3

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” – Matthew 25:34-40

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Bernadine Milley December 20, 2010 at 1:38 am

the main reason that I support and will continue to support the Salvation Army is that they see needs and are willing to do things like this. I am too biased, too prejudiced, too lazy and selfish to go out there and love on people the way they do. They are given a level of respect in the tough communities because ‘they’ are willing to go where I won’t and where they’ve been going and doing for I’m not sure how long. I am commenting on this ‘blind’. I haven’t read the articles, I haven’t researched on exactly what they are giving and to who. But the fact that I’m wondering that makes me think that that’s why I support them in prayers and donations–because they will, without prejudice, do what I would never have even considered doing, let alone actually doing it. I know the people doing these things are ordinary people just like you and I and ‘they’ are not some holier than thou super-human beings but under the umbrella of the Salvation Army and please God, with the sanction of the Holy Spirit, they are able to go and do things that maybe a lot of us don’t get or take, the chance to–like this. Now that I’ve blathered on, I’ll simply say this. If this is sanctioned by the Holy Spirit, then it will bear Holy Fruit. If it isn’t, then it won’t. I will just add this thought too. I was a rotten sinner once(shock!) and there were many things done by many people that helped to bring me to salvation and I’d hate to think that anyone tried to stop them cos they didn’t think I was worth it.


Larry Hehn December 20, 2010 at 12:07 pm

It’s always nice to hear your perspective, Bernadine. You are welcome to “blather on” here any time!


Tony Alicea December 20, 2010 at 11:10 am

I think this is awesome. Love is the most transforming thing a person can receive. No amount of punishment or counseling can transform a heart like unconditional love. I love that the Salvation Army is demonstrating Jesus to these prisoners.

What the people don’t see is that doing this isn’t condoning their actions but showing them that just because they have messed up, they can still be loved…there is still hope.
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Larry Hehn December 20, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Great point, Tony. Thanks!


Duane Scott December 21, 2010 at 12:32 am

Okay, I sorta like this post.

I too, was a little distraught at first when I heard the news.

And then I forgot about it.

Until now, until I read this post.

And now I know why God let me forget about it until I could read this. Because God wants to bring “restoration” to each person, especially those in prison.



Larry Hehn December 21, 2010 at 11:37 am

Thanks, Duane. I was talking with a friend of mine on Sunday and we both agreed that the older the two of us get, the more we feel an appreciation for God’s grace. We see the need for it in our own lives and are (hopefully) becoming more willing to extend it to others. Maybe wisdom does come with age…?

Very glad you stopped by!


Jacqui Worthington December 21, 2010 at 10:38 am

I think that it is sad and self righteous for people to stop giving to The Salvation Army just because they do not agree with giving gifts to prisoners. Why take your funds away from all those in need because you don’t want to support one group out of many? I would hope that those that are no longer going to give to the SA would go out and feed the hunger and needy on their own. Sadly, that will most likely not be the case.
I think that giving gifts to prisoners is a wonderful thing to do. I doubt these gifts are anything extravagant, but they at least will help to remind those receiving them that they are still human beings and that there is no end to love. Just because you want to show love and kindness to someone doesn’t mean you are condoning what they have done at all. I believe that we are all called to extend love and grace to everyone, as that is what we have been given. Those that are incarcerated need to know that there is love and hope still alive in the world if we ever expect to have them re-enter society.
I say good for The Salvation Army for loving in spite of circumstance.


Larry Hehn December 21, 2010 at 11:39 am

I’m glad that God extends his grace to all, and doesn’t pick and choose like we sometimes do. Thanks, Jacqui!


David Rupert December 21, 2010 at 12:12 pm

With so much gospel work going on in prisons these days, is it possible that there is way more holy living behind bars than in churches?
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Larry Hehn December 21, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Oooh, a very sobering thought, David. That’s definitely something worthy of discussion and reflection!


Inger December 21, 2010 at 1:38 pm

This post has had the opposite effect on me. I will now go down to the SA and donate. We often give at church and are smugly satisfied with that. We are born into this world as prisoners of a liar, and deceiver. At this time of year we are reminded that even tho we were in prison to sin, and deservedly so, God thought enough of us to provide the Ultimate Gift. How can we begrudge these ones in this unhappy state? Precious few would choose this place to be, especially at this time of year. Thanks Larry, for a timely reminder.


Larry Hehn December 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Good point, Inger. Not all “prisoners” are behind bars. If anything, I hope and pray that this discussion will lead us to a greater understanding and appreciation of God’s grace. For all of us. Thanks for sharing!


Michael December 22, 2010 at 12:25 am

Man, this is just crazy.
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Larry Hehn December 22, 2010 at 12:51 am

I don’t usually write “LOL”, but I just did have a good belly laugh. I love your candor, Michael!


scarter December 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm

I am a ordained minister and a victim of a crime, People should understand that as Christians ( Salvation Army) we are to forgive as our savior forgives us and people in prison are serving their time for their crime and most will be back in our communities and must be able to have support to help with rejoining society as a productive member. This only benefits us all. To turn your back on people as a human race is not what God intended in fact prison is a great place for these people to find God and change their lives. During this time we should forgive those who trespass against us for not forgiving is a sin in itself. I pray that people whom have anger towards this mission of the Salvation Army realize also that these are the children and loved ones of their neighbors and not all are in Prison for horrific crimes some are in for things that we all do or have done before. God Bless everyone this season and instill the love of God in everyone! God Bless


Larry Hehn December 15, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this message, scarter.


Karla November 18, 2012 at 8:41 am

Building bridges with the community? Then why are they giving money to the Death Row offenders? They arent going anywhere.


Larry Hehn November 19, 2012 at 9:14 am

Neither are terminally ill patients, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t called to treat them as God’s children and minister to them. That’s what I meant by “building bridges”. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Karla!


Dan Grimes November 27, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I feel there are more deserving people to use that money towards. Federal inmates have warm shelter, food, recreation, visitation and more. Half the things get thrown away by inmates. Save the money for the “needy”.


Larry Hehn November 27, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Thank you for joining the conversation, Dan.


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