The Imprisoned Mind

Maybe you’ve seen Shawshank Redemption, maybe you haven’t. But if you have, let’s take a moment to remember some of the plot. The movie was released in ’94 and it tells the story of a man named Andy who receives two life sentences for allegedly killing his wife and her lover. And so, under the authority of the judge he is sent to Shawshank prison for life. While in prison he looks for ways to make the place better, one being, to raise money to build the prison library and at another time he found ways to help his fellow inmates drink in the beauty of life, even though it costs him weeks of isolation. The other prisoners find him to be an odd ball, especially Red, who later becomes his best friend. Even after being imprisoned for several years Andy still has part of him that isn’t institutionalized—but, throughout the film you notice how all of the men have created a subculture of life in prison. They eat, sleep, and are subjected to discipline that makes them all feel like children. They don’t feel trusted by society and the facility has stripped them of their independence. They undergo strict orders and they are told when to get up and when to go to sleep. They are confined to a cell at night and the prison walls by day and yet, they are able to construct somewhat of a microcosm of life while living in prison. While Andy and Red are still serving their time one of their friends is released— Brooks. Let’s see how he faces the outside world after being locked up for so long: video of Brooks after release.

The Laborers. Immediately my mind is directed to notice the parallels between imprisonment and bonded labor. The laborers are subjected to similar distress, transition, and the challenges of freedom as Brooks’ inside talk reveals in this clip. The transition from bondage to freedom for the laborers can be just as terrifying and intimidating as it was for Brooks to transition from imprisonment to the real world. The similarities abound! In the facility, the laborers are told what to do and when to do it, when they shall eat or if they will eat at all. They are restricted in what they shall do and where they can go. They are not permitted to act as a family unit. There are parameters to the facility even if the facility is lacking walls; it’s understood that if you try to escape the owner will come back to get you. They are neglected medical attention; they are exploited economically; they are physically, sexually and verball abused, and treated with absolutely no dignity – all at the expense of someone else’s abuse of power. Research about imprisonment describes an inmate’s experience as U-shaped, saying that they have the greatest amount of distress at the beginning and the end of their sentence, but there’s a lull — a major adjustment if you will — in the middle that makes all the restrictions and the abnormal living environment, well, “normal.” I don’t think the labourers have the same sort of distress at the beginning as prisoners– most are deceived, but we do see the anxiety, fear and restlessness that sets in right before rescue. This distress often makes it difficult to establish relationships with them but now that I have been reminded of the subculture and shift in mindset that takes place within the facility I have even greater compassion and patience for them – because I’m reminded of why it would be so distressful to make such a major life transition given that most are in bondage for years, if not generations.

Us. And so, I just started a bible study about spiritual bondage which is where all of this came from originally, so I have been comparing the differences between how our laborers experience bonded labor and how we experience spiritual bondage, post salvation. When I say bondage, maybe nothing comes to mind, but imagine the same dynamic of a master/slave relationship. Basically, areas of bondage can be self-defeating concepts about oneself, life, God, or other people that control, dictate, or restrict what you do and who you are — in a similar fashion as those who are literally imprisoned. [Examples of lies/wounds that lead to emotional bondage: people pleasing (living by the expectations of others) as a means to self-worth, self-pity (inverted form of pride), attention-seeking, low self-esteem, inflated view of oneself, substances (food, alcohol, drugs), self-consciousness, legalism, inadequacy, misplaced worth, fear, anxiety, one-way thinking, traditions of men.] Bondage for us isn’t a physical bondage though – no, it is an emotional, intellectual bondage that controls our decisions and actions by controlling our thoughts and it seems as if it is too powerful for us, just as the owner is too powerful for the victim to overcome. Even when the victim wants to leave he will rarely make an attempt because of the power differential. While this might be true for the labourers’ who are in physical bondage, it is not true for those who are in Christ. Our battle against bondage (the wounds that have colored what we fundamentally believe about ourselves, God, and important people in our lives) is different. If you are in Christ, the power dynamic changes: It’s different because we supply the power of our bondage through our belief in the lies. Just as a lamp is given power through the electrical outlet, we give power to lies in our lives by believing them.


I’m not trying to minimize the difficulty involved in changing our thinking to say, “just stop believing the lies” since the reason we believe the “lies” is because we have an experiential understanding that tells us that it is true of us, sometimes multiple experiences, multiple wounds from others. But, simply disciplining ourselves not to internalize negative interpretations of events or others’ actions toward us is not enough, we need to think differently about the things that have happened; it’s those painful interpretations that hold us captive. It really is that simple: We just tend to overcomplicate things. Even the biblical word for repentance means “a change in thinking” and not to simply stop what we’re doing (behavior modification). Jesus asks us to change how we think about things and our actions will eventually follow. Yet, believing the truth doesn’t always feel like it fits, sort of like a child who tries to walk in an oversized pair of shoes. The child will try it on and say, “It fits me!” but before the words come out of her mouth the child is stumbling and dragging the shoes with the front of her feet. But after walking in the shoes for a while, the foot will grow into the shoe and all of a sudden it will fit– and any other size shoe, or truth if you will, would be an anomaly. What was normal has now become abnormal just as life in prison should become abnormal after adjusting to the outside world. 

Since being here certain areas have been highlighted for me personally that I’m trying to muster up the courage to face (to think differently about). And so, I understand the fear that comes with addressing an area of the heart and mind that seems so ingrained that is it a part of your being. Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling it invokes; frightening is probably a better word. Because, in confronting a lie I have to ask myself if it’s actually true, how I came to believe it was true, and recognize how my life would be different (intrapersonally and interpersonally) if I believed otherwise. For example, one question I’m faced with is, “What if I’m not inadequate? What experience/s made me feel this way? And if I were to revisit that expereince in my head what is a better conclusion to draw than to say, “You’re inadequate, Neesha.” Believing I am adequate would change my relationships with people because I wouldn’t have a dire need to be affirmed in that way. Believing I am adequate would mean I wouldn’t put unrealistic constraints (mental and in my decisions) on what I think I can do or can’t do based in fear that the lie is true! As I attempt to face areas in need of purging and redefining I am reminded that I dont have to fear when my heart condemns me as I journey to believe the truth because God is greater than my heart’s condemnation.

Perhaps it’s encouraging to know that walking in freedom and truth can feel weird at first and to experience intense fear, anxiety and restlessness before facing it can be a normal response– as though we are about to be challenged to live in a different world by living by a different truth, but it’s worth the risk and the joy! Our laborers take this sort of risk to uproot their lives from the facility and to start over — not knowing how to make the simplest decisions, but they do it.The following Scripture is a promise for them and for us– the great exchange that happens when we can relinquish what holds us captive by disciplining ourselves to think differently and take hold of the living God. He is the lifter of our head and his grace is sufficient for the day.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba Father!” (Romans 8:12, ESV)

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments. (1 John 3:19, ESV) 

This song has been my anthem lately. Never Once by Matt Redman.


42 people rescued & G/TIP report- The Latest

With my roommate leaving and recently booking my return ticket, I have been reflecting more than usual lately .. Ive been thinking about how enriching this entire experience has been and how encouraged I am as we seek justice for the poor. My heart overflows to tears of joy and I can hardly imagine returning home on May 6th and not doing this work any longer. Sigh … What to do, what to do …

We had our first operation for the year just last week. 42 labourers were rescued from a rock quarry where they were abused and held against their will. Now they are free to live an autonomous life as they start from scratch. IJM news states, “Six children received the government-issued release certificates, along with 25 adults who were forced to work in the rock quarry as slaves. The release certificates cancel any alleged or outstanding debts to the owner and entitle each individual to rehabilitation funds set aside by the government for former forced labor slaves.” Now they can make independent choices as they have been granted the freedom every human being deserves: the freedom to make daily decisions in the mundane and ordinary. You can read IJM’s post about this operation on their website.

In October, Passion came to our office to video one of our laborers, Raman, to show at Passion 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. The entire film is available for viewing on You Tube. I’ve added it to the You Tube tab as well.

Yesterday I had a unique opportunity. At the last minute my director asked if I could do a high profile trip with the US consulate so they could obtain information to write the G/TIP report (Trafficking in Persons Report for the US government). This report is generated by meeting with local NGOs and analyzing the data to determine an area’s level  of prevention, protection, and prosecution. Each tier receives a certain amount of foreign aid and so the G/TIP report helps to guide the ranking and distributing of foreign aid. So yesterday, I got in their bullet-proof car and we drove to a village that was four hours away to meet with a family who was released from bondage in 2007. On the way there we had a long chat about IJM’s work to eradicate bonded labor and I had the opportunity to share how feeding and educating the poor would fail to promote national development. Case in point: Even if education is available, families of the Irular tribe stop sending their daughters to school once they hit puberty because they fear they will be raped and become pregnant. This is just one example of how the accessibility of education doesn’t ensure long-term economic development. So, rather than focusing on relief alone one must see how most poor people are exploited and violently oppressed, making relief and even education a temporary aid; and, in order to promote development for the poor one must influence the public justice system (and other systems as well) by learning from casework and then providing trainings on Best Practices to high and local officials, policy makers, educators, stakeholders, and power actors.

We sat with the laborers and listened to their story of extreme neglect, abuse, and how their children suffered. Rice work required them to work through the night (300-2200 hrs), including their children. When they tried to sleep, the house the owner built for them flooded, and their daughter cried due to the tumor in her leg that went untreated for one year. A relative told them about IJM and that’s when they escaped to tell someone about the conditions of the facility, but the owner found them, beat them, and took them captive along with additional family members as punishment. But now, they are free. They have a charcoal-making business and their children are attending school. When asked how their life is different after being released from the facility, they said:

“We are happy. When we finish work we can go home and we get paid as we should since it’s our business. Now our kids go to school and before now they were working in the facility. If we need to go to the doctor we can go because we have saved money. We help our community because we don’t want others to suffer like we did.”