Sorry folks, a “God Pod” is not the latest Apple product; it is the nickname for a cell block in a correctional facility for religious inmates, usually of the fundamentalist Christian variety. These religiously-themed cell blocks began gaining popularity during the Bush administration as more and more government funding was made available for faith-based initiatives. Inmates in the “God Pods” conduct regular bible studies, worship services and participate in faith-based rehabilitation programs, usually led by an outside prison ministry.
Inmates in the “God Pods” tend to enjoy special privileges, such as access to a living area with comfy chairs and couches, a library of Christian oriented videos and music, and other amenities such as microwaves that are not available in other, secular cell blocks. The waiting list to get in to the “God Pod” is usually quite long.
What’s troublesome about these “God Pods” is not the fact that there is religion inside our prisons—on the contrary, faith and faith-based organizations have done immeasurable good helping many inmates turn their lives around. And let us not forget that prisoners have the same constitutional right we all have to practice any religion or none at all.
The key words here are “any religion or none at all.” Coercing or even pressuring a prisoner to participate in religious rituals and programs is unconstitutional, and this kind of behavior should never be sanctioned by prison authorities. If we are to invite outside faith-based programs to come in to our prisons to work with inmates, we must be certain that participation is completely voluntary and that the religious observances—or lack thereof—of others is respected.
ACLU-NM is investigating one of New Mexico’s own “God Pods” right here in Albuquerque’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC). Cell block D-4—the “God Pod”—is ostensibly an interfaith initiative, where inmates participate in faith-based rehabilitation programs and other religious activities, but it is largely dominated by one local fundamentalist Christian prison ministry. Recently, a Jewish inmate was assigned to the “god pod” where fellow inmates and corrections officers threatened him with punishment when he refused to participate in Christian prayers and activities.
ACLU-NM is currently in conversation with MDC in order to determine how faith-based programs can continue to be offered to inmates in a way that is consistent with the First Amendment.
If you would like to learn more about “God Pods,” I highly suggest the article “Beyond the God Pod” published in the Santa Fe Reporter in 2005.