Essay Sample on Secure the Soul: Christian Piety and Gang Prevention in Guatemala

Published: 2023-01-08
Essay Sample on Secure the Soul: Christian Piety and Gang Prevention in Guatemala
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  War Christianity Church Bible
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1871 words
16 min read


The correctional facilities and penitentiaries have grown to be holes that delinquents and criminals are lost in forever. Maximum prison facilities have gradually stripped off the social developmental aspects of human growth from the inmates. There is no provision of therapy, life coaching, or counseling and this has left these areas with merely physical aspects of life - riots, deaths, incarceration, and punishment. The church has hence been the one aspect of these systems that has linked the social, emotional religious and economic spaces of the inmates, and balance their needs to fit their situations. The fact that many individuals engage in gang activities to identify, as a result of low self-esteem is uncontentious. It is hence the work of piety, through bible study, fellowship and spiritual direction to lift the esteem of the convicts, and thus enable them to transition from a state of hopelessness to one of self-reinvention. O'Neill, therefore, presents an ethnography of how the piety works, within a system of dire despair, to revive the self-esteem and transitioning of post-war Guatemalan inmates.

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The post-war prison systems are dominated with the feeling of anxiety, rejection, isolation, and hostility. These are feelings that the prison systems and security have largely failed to cater for, as most prisoners are their authority. In such a state of hopelessness, O'Neill presents one source of hope, the Christian community. The piety and the prison chaplaincy, therefore, have the sole responsibility of not only interacting with the gangs but also ensuring human development. They do this through the building of their self-esteem. This is the only shield the inmates need against bloodthirsty enemies (O'Neill, 2015). The inmates are practically outcast in the society, and therefore, it is only by achieving a sense of internal peace and appreciation that they can find a reason to survive the brutality of the world as O'Neill notes "when someone's self-esteem is so low, then they are dead." The steel bars do not entirely extinguish the dreams of the prisoners, and therefore, self-identification supplies them with salvation and security.

The masks that ex-convicts and ex-gang members live with in societies is the very bars that lock them from achieving self-identification. From the USAID reality show, the gradual unmasking of the gang members under the Christianity umbrella. Christian citizenship is hence a proof of the interconnectedness between the body and the soul. It is a way through which ex-gangs exhibit the moral righteousness, work ethics and willingness to reunite with the society. Christianity hence offers security through sanctification. The working environment more so through the call centers also need to embrace the Christian values of righteousness. Do good to all men. This is the Christian law that the call center must embrace towards employees and job seekers, more so the ex-gang, to enable them out of harm's way and grant them a chance to be productive. Piety, therefore, is a critical tool that can be utilized to rehabilitate the victims and perpetrators of war. They are rejuvenated to secure legal employment as well as refrain from substance abuse. The acquisition of self-esteem is the one tool that the inmates need to redefine themselves and acquire the identity and capacity they never would in their former states. Therefore according to O'Neil, the processes, practices and rhetoric's of reconstructing the securities of individuals and the society at large require the piety of religion.

Reflection of Previous Examinations

From the previous exams the discussions have been deeply rooted in the link between religious, conflict and politics. Religion has hence been depicted as a source of peace, as a pawn for conflict, as well as a political tool used to cause discrimination against certain groups of people. Religious leaders and groups have in many instances been at the forefront in mitigating conflicts and wars. From the critical situations as the ones in Sudan in 1972, where the church mediated a shirt-lived peace agreement, and in Mozambique in 1992, where the religious group Sant'Egido mediated for the end of the civil war and the religious groups have played a critical role in maintaining peace and mediating understanding. Different religions, from Christianity, Muslims, Buddhists and Jewish and many others have adapted the message of peace in their doctrines.

Religion has likewise been a cause of conflict. The civil war in Syria was largely caused by religious differences within the citizens (Basedau, Pfeiffer and Vullers, 2016). The prosecutions and discrimination against people of certain religious groups have been common, incases of the prosecution of Christians in Iraqi after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and the fight of Muslims in Sri Lanka. The American Christians and soldiers have also forms stereotypes against Muslims as threats to security. Religion has also been alluded to the motives of terror attack such as bombings and mass killings, even though this sometimes end up to be personal convictions and coercion by military groups. Politics have found way into holy places, and states have hence stirred up violence against certain religious groups. France for instance came up with a policy that was specifically targeting the Muslims, by declaring the prohibition of concealment of the face in public places, whereas other religious groups were at liberty of walking with the crosses and veils. China on the other hand has a limitation of only five religious groups while more than ten are termed as evil cults.

Analysis of Secure the Soul

Religion is once again put in the light of resolving conflicts, the same way it has been used in mediating and preaching peace. With the ever increasing crimes around the world, the prison systems have been granted the primary role of cleaning streets and societies off gangs and criminals, and this has hence gradually shifted crime into jails and penitentiaries. From street gangs, drug dealers, drug addicts, murderers and ex-veterans, the aspect of conflict has found its optimal capacity in the jail systems. The case study of Guatemala from O'Neill's book Secure the Soul offers a reinforcement on the link between religion and conflict, through prison chaplaincy. The lives of different individuals within the system are turned around and second chances granted to the inmates unconditionally. As the previous debates have depicted, religion can also be forged as a weapon against the people it is expected to protect. This is similarly true with the case study in the book, as the religious rehabilitation centers have often been turned into bondage that many Guatemalans have been bound into.

Religion as a Source of Self-Esteem

The walls that bind inmates within the jail systems have been the one barrier that has often pressed them down, torn them apart, and hindered them from unlocking their potential even with cuffs on their hands. Many have found ways of survival through their gangs, the likes of MS-13, through violence and the trafficking of drugs and sex workers (O'Neill, 2018). The prison chaplaincy has, however, been an active form of transformation for the inmates. Maximum prisons, for instance, have over time been uncontrollable dens filled with criminals and this has gradually ripped the prison systems off their authority over the prisoners. Therefore, everything that happens within their confinements has been entirely dictated by them, and this has resulted in deaths, sexual harassment, and despair. However, the existence of the religious fraternity has introduced a form of authority that none of the gangs could grant the inmates. The real bondage, according to Morales, a prison chaplain, is not the steel bars that the prisoners are confined within but rather the bondage of self. Many inmates are often gang members because they feel they are not worthy members of the community. Therefore, by equipping them with self-esteem, they are freed from within, and hence experience a transformation physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Bridging Effect of Religion

The religious aspect of incarceration has hence been a vital part of the inmates, and the one source of hope they never had. Religious personnel has consequently been a source of inspiration, counsel and role models and this has often prompted the inmates to try and turn their lives around. As Mateo relates, from the moment he met El Pastor, a pastor from his hometown, "something inside me... was restless. I wanted to get out." He adds, "When someone talks to you about God, you get restless" (O'Neill, 2018 p.28). It is however sad that some of the inmates who start to see the light at the end of the tunnel are overwhelmed by the violence and hatred. The case of Gustavo is a sad one, as he was at the brink of salvation when he was decapitated in a brutal encounter with the members of the Paisas. In the prisons, "everybody in there is fighting for their lives, defending their piece." However, several others make it back to society, and this transitioning is often challenging. Many re-enter the community with tattoos that eligibly speak of their past; others have to be continually hiding away from their gangs, while others find it hard to secure employment. Religion hence keeps them away from crime by pumping them with a self-identity that encourages them to leave their former lives behind and strive to be better members of the society. Like the interventions that religious groups had in Sudan and Mozambique towards peace, religion in prison systems attempt to reconcile the brokenness of the inmates to a source of hope that helps them move past the steel bars and perimeter walls. Religious societies also urge the call centers to rule with righteousness and hence allow the ex-convicts a chance at life, and employment.

Captivation for Liberation

Drug addiction has also made many streets unsafe for society, and this has built up a conflict between the users and the community. Religion has once again come in as a bridge between these two sides. However, as earlier established, not every that comes out of divine intervention is positive or just. The same way that religion has been a source of bias, and discrimination against each other, is the very way that drug addicts have found themselves bound in religious centers such as the Pentecostal rehabilitation center disguised under the notion "that captivity is itself liberation-that slavery is salvation" (O'Neill, 2018: 160). Therefore, the religious fraternity, in this case, have been actively involved in the captivity of people sugar-coated with liberation and salvation. The crack addicts are bound literary, and isolated, and this does more harm to their souls than good.


Religion has been an aspect of society that has offered a haven to many in war, conflicts, and bondage. From the apparent interventions in inter-society conflicts to the use of doctrines and dogmas to emphasize peace and no-violence. However, in other instances, it has been used as a weapon forged against specific individuals. From O'Neill's ethnography, it is made clear of these two aspects of religion, where in one case, it is used as a source of hope to inmates, and in another the cause of captivation to drug users. Religion has been used to solve internal conflicts within inmates, elevate their self-esteem and enable them to transition from the prison system into society. However, religious centers have also been used to captivate users of crack, and hence become the bondage they are anticipated to alleviate.

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