Incarcerated – Beyond the Coupon to Grace

Incarcerated – Beyond the Coupon to Grace

Dan Wolgemuth


For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV)

Coupons. The currency inside incarceration. For those in positions of power, they represent the pathway to behavior modification.

Tucked firmly in the hand of every inmate… coupons. With them you buy the most basic supplies. Salt. Pepper. Catsup. Even haircuts are available with coupons.

The instructions are clear… hold your coupons. Not in your sock, not in your waistband. In your hand. And they did… I did. Each coupon had the “Resident’s Name,” the Date, the “Staff’s Name” and the behavior observed. The behavior that warranted the coupon…

  • Cooperation
  • Participation
  • Act of kindness
  • Sportsmanship
  • Attitude
  • Rational thinking
  • Respect…

Coupons as currency. And coupons as a means to an end. Behavior change.

… and, quite unintentionally, coupons become the theology of the incarcerated. I heard it, and felt it from the young men who remain branded on my soul.

God, in His heavens, becomes the cosmic dispenser of coupons. And coupons as a sign of His approval and acceptance. And approval as a means to win access to “the good stuff”, and actually access to God Himself. If you have enough coupons, you have access. No coupons. No God.

The deal is straightforward, logical, and so completely unbiblical. Make no mistake, there was a cosmic exchange. But it has nothing to do with my good behavior. In fact, I trade my foolishness for Christ’s righteousness. Not behavior modification, but radical transformation. And I do this as an act of faith, and faith alone. And the faith I utilize to embrace grace is a gift as well.

I sat with young men who believed that God was waiting… not pursuing. He was waiting for them to accumulate enough coupons for His interest and love to be ignited. That’s the way the system works, so naturally, that’s how God works… but it’s not. Humbly, it’s not.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8, NLT)

While we were empty handed. No coupons in sight. Jesus came.

Our righteous behavior, not a manipulation scheme, but the fruit of a complete rebirth. From dead to alive. From alienated to family. Daughters and sons… not because of our coupons, but because of Jesus. The ultimate coupon.

And perhaps, just maybe… a sixty-four year old who spent twenty-six hours in a detention center on his own initiative shifted the spotlight from coupons to grace. Pursued. Rescued. Redeemed. Transformed.

Now, three and a half months removed… Lord, remind them… he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5, NIV)

Amazing grace. For every incarcerated soul.

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