An Appeal to the Divine

An Appeal to the Divine

Religion offers an alternative to whatever path led inmates to prison, where 160 different faiths are practiced behind bars. (Stockton Record)

Whatever’s in their past, whatever their motivation, faith manages to find a way between the bars.

For some California inmates, religion offers an alternative to the path that led them to prison. They fill chapel pews to pray and sing with chaplains as their guides, or they quietly pore over scripture alone in their cells. They’re Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans, Buddhists, Wiccans and Druids to name a few of the 160 faiths California prisoners practice.

Some 46,000, or 27 percent, of inmates in California prisons participate in religious programs. Inmates say being locked up has given them the time to reflect, repent and in turn find spiritual enlightenment.

Religion in prison also sparks wide debate. Is a convict capable of redemption, or is it a show for the parole board? Some prisoners who subscribe to minority faiths say that, while there has been progress, they continue to struggle for religious freedoms adherents of larger faiths enjoy.

The Stockton Record spent over one year documenting how Northern California inmates practice their faiths behind prison walls, and produced five short videos (and accompanying text stories) devoted, respectively, to Christian Choir, Protestant, Islam, Catholic, Native American faiths.

CHANNEL: Stockton (CA) Record /

Scott Smith: Video, Audio, Editing
Michael McCollum: Photography, Video Editing
Tara Cuslidge & Kirk Barron: Online Presentation