Captive faith: Recommended resources


There are many books about the history of prisons and punishment. Some of the most helpful include Anthony Babington, The Power to Silence (1968); Blake McKelvey, American Prisons (1977); Nicole Hahn Rafter, Partial Justice (1990); Richard Bauman, Crime and Punishment in Ancient Rome (1999); Mark Colvin, Penitentiaries, Reformatories, and Chain Gangs (1997); Norval Morris and David Rothman, eds., The Oxford History of the Prison (1997); Scott Christianson, With Liberty for Some (1998); Adam Jay Hirsch, The Rise of the Penitentiary (1992); Paul Griffiths and Simon Devereaux, eds., Penal Practice and Culture, 1500–1900 (2004); John Witte Jr., God’s Joust, God’s Justice (2006); Pieter Spierenburg, The Prison Experience (2007); Guy Geltner, The Medieval Prison (2008); Ralph Pugh, Imprisonment in Medieval England (2008); and Edward Marston, Prison: 500 Years of Life Behind Bars (2009). 

Books on Christians involved in prison reform and ministry also abound. Start with Myra Glenn, Campaigns against Corporal Punishment (1984); Estelle Freedman, Their Sisters’ Keepers (1984); Carter Lindberg, Beyond Charity (1993); Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking (1993); Steven Mintz, Moralists and Modernizers (1995); Robert Abzug, Cosmos Crumbling (1994); Andrew Skotnicki, Religion and the Development of the American Penal System (2000) and Criminal Justice and the Catholic Church (2007); James Beckford and Sophie Gilliat, Religion in Prison (2005); Dennis Shere, Cain’s Redemption (2005); Jennifer Graber, The Furnace of Affliction (2011); Byron Johnson, More God, Less Crime (2011) and coauthor of The Angola Prison Seminary (2016); Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (2014); and Daniel Karpowitz, College in Prison (2017). 

Prisoners as authors figure in H. Bruce Franklin, Prison Literature in America (1989); Daniel Cohen, Pillars of Salt, Monuments of Grace (2006); and William Sherman and William Sheils, eds., Prison Writings in Early Modern England (2009). We’ve recommended biographies and autobiographies of famous imprisoned Christians in previous issues (see the back issue list on the next page). Some not previously mentioned include Robert Offord, Jerry McAuley, An Apostle to the Lost (1907); Charles Colson, Born Again (1976); Armando Valladares, Against All Hope (1987); Linda Strom, Karla Faye Tucker Set Free (2000); Stephen Wang, The Long Road to Freedom (2000); Thomas Horn and Donna Howell, Redeemed Unredeemable (2004); David Berkowitz, Son of Hope (2006); and Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place (2009). 

Some anthologies of prison writings include Isidore Abramowitz, ed., The Great Prisoners (1946); H. Bruce Franklin, ed., Prison Writings in 20th Century America (1998); Geoffrey Bould, ed., Conscience Be My Guide (2005); and Bell Gale Chevigny, ed., Doing Time (2011). 

Many classic books written in prison are available from libraries, booksellers, and online—among them The Consolation of Philosophy (524) by Boethius; “The Spiritual Canticle” (1622) by John of the Cross; No Cross, No Crown (1669) by William Penn; Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) by John Bunyan; The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1973); Letters and Papers from Prison (1951) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; and

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (1963) by Martin Luther King Jr. 

Christian History issues

Read these past issues of Christian History online; some are still available for purchase.

16: William Tyndale

32: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

• 37: Persecution in the Early Church 

48: Thomas Cranmer

68: Jan Hus

69: The Wesleys 

89: Richard Baxter

98: The Church in China 

109: The Modern Age of Persecution

116: 25 Writings

117: Quakers

DVDs from Vision Video 

Videos on the theme of this issue include Agent of Grace; Bless You Prison; Blessedness out of Brokenness; Beyond Torture; The Choice Is Yours; Corrie ten Boom; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Eric Liddell; From University to Prison; The Hiding Place; John Bunyan; John Hus; Hanged on a Twisted Cross; Killing Time; Long Road Back; Love Is Not a Luxury; Mama Luka Comes Home; One Killer Too Many; Pilgrim’s Progress; Power of Forgiveness; Prisoners of Hope; Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand; Saving Face; and Truth Prevails. Our Torchlighters series has episodes on Perpetua, John Bunyan, William Tyndale, Eric Liddell, Corrie ten Boom, Richard Wurmbrand, and Adoniram Judson, all of whom were imprisoned for their faith. 


Christian History Institute has maintained the website Captive Faith for a number of years, featuring testimonies of imprisoned Christians from seven different eras of church history. Some of the excerpts in this issue were adapted from it. Many prisoners featured in Captive Faith have web pages devoted to them at other sites, including Anne Askew and Toyohiko Kagawa.

A number of prisoner advocacy organizations maintain historical timelines and information about prisons; you can also find a timeline and pictures at Access statistics about modern crime and prisons in the United States at the Bureau of Justice website, and learn about everything having to do with federal prisons at the Federal Bureau of Prisons website. Similar information for the United Kingdom is found at the UK Ministry of Justice.

The US government does not keep statistics on religion in prisons; one attempt to remedy that omission is a survey of chaplains by the Pew Research Center. Prison chaplain organizations include the American Correctional Chaplains Association, the Correctional Ministries and Chaplains Association, and the International Prison Chaplains Association

Most individual prison ministries mentioned in this issue have websites: the most famous is probably Prison Fellowship. Helen Prejean, the real-life woman behind Dead Man Walking, maintains a website at The Calvin Prison Initiative has a website, and you can read more about the seminary initiative in Angola at the website of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. If you’re intrigued by the idea of Shakespeare in prison ministry, check out the website of Shakespeare Behind Bars. Finally you may be interested in a Bible curriculum specifically for prisoners at the Theology of Work ProjectCH

By the editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #123 in 2017]

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