I have said, "Most of my friends these days are felons, ex-felons, or preachers." This always seems to get a laugh, but it is literally true. I do have friends that fit none of these categories for sure, but having spent the past 30 years of my life in ministry I have alot of friends who are pastors, teachers, evangelists, theologians, and missionaries. This accounts for those being labeled as "preachers."
But for the past twelve years a good portion of my time has been spent with men who are behind prison bars. These men are from various socio-economic classes and ethnic groups. There are doctors, businessmen, ministers, lawyers, truck drivers, chefs, waiters, barbers, and every other profession (legal and illegal) among those I teach and fellowship with. I have friends who have been drug dealers, gang leaders, tax evaders, and simply those who "crossed over the line" and found themselves on the other side of the law. I am not ashamed to say that I have friends who have murdered, stole, conned, cheated, and defrauded. I have friends that are registered sex offenders. I have friends that have been shot in drug deals, shot people in drive-byes, run from the police, the feds, and the county sheriff. I also have friends that are more dangerous with a computer than a 9 millimeter pistol.
Outside of the prison, many of my friends are those dealing with addictions. Many of these men have been in prison at one time or another. They come from every walk of life. One is a former art dealer from Hunington Beach, California, another an Alaskan crab fisherman, another who is a gourmet chef, and another who is a West Point graduate. Some are dealing with alcohol or drug addiction, others sexual addiction, and some with anger.
These are my friends. These are the people I "hang-out" with. These are the kind of people Jesus was around. He was called "a friend of sinners" and so He was. I, for one, am glad that He is a friend of sinners, otherwise He wouldn't hang out with me. I'm a sinner and a saint. I'm a Pharisee in recovery. I have known the prison I built with my own sin. I've been addicted to my selfishness.
Johnny Cash was once asked, "Why do people like your songs about prison?" He responded by saying, "Because everyone can relate to being in prison. We have all created our own prisons and been prisoners."