Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison

Joshua Dubler spent more than six years working with chapel volunteers at Pennsylvania's maximum security Graterford Prison. Down in the Chapel recounts one week at the chapel, focused on Dubler's interactions with four African-American prisoners: a Protestant, a Catholic and two Muslims.

Dubler and his wise but clear-eyed inmates admit from the start there are degrees of faith in prison, and that faith is often an elaborate dance between the authentic and the artificial. One of the central themes of Down in the Chapel is that religious prisoners need not be "manifest fakers"; their motives can bear greater complexity even in the raw and materially meager setting. Dubler moves beyond the stereotype of good and bad men to grasp the nuances of these chess games with the concept of God. He also provides an interesting discussion about race in the U.S., reminiscent of David Simon's work in The Corner and The Wire, as a snapshot of the marginalization of people of color.

By the same token, there is a wonderful capacity among those he works with to own up to their own crimes and the interior BS that brought them to these dark halls. Articulate about religion and the dehumanizing aspects of prison life, they very seldom view things through the prism of victimhood.

Down in the Chapel gives us an intelligent conversation on race, religion, freedom and imprisonment. It's a compassionate look at the underbelly of society, where displays of belief start out as survival strategies but can morph into something more profound and beautiful. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

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