Incarcerated Atheist Understands Why Fellow Inmates Need Religion

Incarcerated Atheist Understands Why Fellow Inmates Need Religion July 4, 2018

Colin had a consensual relationship with a teenager. He went to prison for sexual assault because she was under the age of consent. I don’t know the details: how old was he? How old was she? The point of this post, of course, is not to pore over his crime and determine whether he ought to be in prison or not. Rather, it’s part of a series that sets out to inform us about what prison is like for godless folks in America. You can read other installations in this series, here: Atheist Inmates In Their Own Words.

Colin Murkette, Atheist Inmate

Colin is doing time in Brooklyn Correctional Institution, a medium-security corrections facility in Connecticut. He is set to be released next year but will likely remain on the sex offender registry in Connecticut.

I wrote to Colin asking him a few questions to get the conversation going. Here is his response:

Howdy Courtney,

To begin with, let me apologize in advance. My handwriting will be terrible at some point (or throughout) during this letter as I’m putting down a story I’m writing in order to be able to respond. I’ve written twenty-four pages of said story since yesterday and my arm is about ready to flop lifelessly to the floor. Secondly, you just completely broke my brain. You have nearly identical handwriting to my stepmother and I had no clue why she was writing from British Columbia. Now that I have some clue as to what the hell is going on, on to your letter.

Please bear in mind it’s difficult to convey tone in a letter but if it sounds dry or moderately (or extremely) tongue-in-cheek, it’s meant to be humorous. If I fail to that end, well, that’s on me. C’est la vie. Anywho…  your questions and my answers:

1. Have you always been an Atheist?

Yes and more so with every passing year. Combine my lapsed Catholic father, my “agnostic” mother and a lifetime of incessant death, suffering and trauma and it becomes difficult to believe in a benevolent God and his plan. Who’s plan involves giving a ten-year-old fatal leukaemia?

2. Have you ever been treated poorly in prison because you are an atheist?

Not so much, no. Prison is a lot like a bar filled to the brim with conservatives. If you don’t talk about politics, religion or sexual orientation you may well make it out fairly unscathed. That’s not a guarantee, but it’s a good place to start.

3. Do you feel free to tell your fellow inmates that you are an atheist?

By nature, I’m a very blunt human being. I’m the guy in the room who will tell a perfect stranger that their fly is down or there’s something hanging out of their nose. When it comes time to bring up theism, or lack thereof, I’m the last person to bite their tongue.

4. What is your overall opinion of religion?

That’s an involved question which demands a fairly long, involved reply. On one hand, I understand the need to have some kind of explanation for our own futility and powerlessness. I don’t begrudge others their search for a way to cope with the fact that we’re all eventually going to die. It’s a miserable, painful part of life, but it’s inevitable. If you need religion to help you cope with your mortality, go for it. I won’t stop you. Being caged in a sub-hundred square foot bathroom with another man, and a total stranger to boot, for 20-plus hours a day and simultaneously being forced to watch your life and the world at large leave you behind is a painful experience. If religion is what you need to cope with that? Again, that I won’t begrudge you.

On the other hand, however, I have to paraphrase Neitzche. He said, “hope is the greatest of evils for it prolongs the suffering of man”. Religion… religion is the greatest of all evils for it turns an otherwise logical, loving human being into a hateful, judgemental shrew. How is a thousands-year-old metaphysical pissing contest the single most divisive human construct since money? If a man came up to me, said my imaginary fairy godmother is better than yours and was promptly summarily executed how is that A) acceptable or B) any different from religious strife from the Crusades to modern-day Islamic extremism? Children don’t murder one another over their invisible friends. Why do logical adults do it over religion?

I don’t believe anyone or anyone single topic is capable or worthy of deciding life over death. I do believe, at their cores, many religions provide excellent guidelines as to how one can be or become a decent human being. Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t act like an asshole if you don’t want to be treated like one. All great words to live by. Where, though, did I just say murder if anyone disagrees with you? Huh. I feel like I missed that one when I read the Bible, the Quran, the Talmud and the Torah. Then again, I’m a blunt guy, like I said. I don’t look for hidden meaning. “Love thy neighbor” doesn’t translate to “Love thy neighbor unless they’re gay, black, poor, Puerto Rican, Mexican, female or differ from you in any way up to and including their tax bracket”. In that case, bomb the eff out of them and welcome to Trump’s America. I’m a simple guy. Be nice and I’ll return the favor. Religious or otherwise.

5. What is your day-to-day life like in prison?

Equal parts boring, tense, stressful, depressing, traumatic, infuriating, sad and upsetting.

6. What is the hardest thing about being in prison?

Some will find this surprising but the hardest part of all this is seeing my family and friends struggle and suffer and not being there to help. My parents are in their 60s living in a house built in the early half of the Eighteenth Century on over 70 acres of land. With a bad back and neck my father can’t take care of the house as he once did, never mind the three-story barn that’s nearly 200 years old. How is he supposed to shovel a 75-yard long driveway in the winter? What about my brother who lives paycheck-to-paycheck and isn’t a mechanic and can’t afford one? I can’t fix his car from prison. Or my little brother who owns and operates a horse farm? I’m only one man but one man committing 24 hours a day to a farm can do a lot of good. Long story short, I’m okay with me suffering. Being forced to watch impotently as my family does blows.

7. do you know any other atheists in prison?

I’m sure I do. We don’t exactly have a club, though.

8. Do you like to read atheist books?

I’m not certain what qualifies as an atheist book, but I avoid books involving any side of the religion conversation for the most part.

9. Do you think being an atheist gets in the way of being granted parole?

I do but as with a good deal of deism vs. atheism argument, there doesn’t seem to be any method to the madness.

10. Do you perceive the religious inmates around you as happier than you?

Pardon my choice of words but God no. Being on a list to go anywhere, up to and including church, is setting yourself up for more frustration and anger. The Department of Corrections cancels at least as many programs as they don’t (and this is only a mild exaggeration) so when they fail to call, or outright cancel, religious services, as often happens, that’s just one more opportunity for the DOC to get in your head and quite possibly land you in seg. (solitary, the hole, etc.) or on the wrong end of an outside charge (criminal charge outside of your current sentence). Sadly, the less you expect, the less they can use against you. Including constitutionally protected rights.

11. Does the idea of accepting God and Jesus into your life get pushed on you in prison?

Not where I am, but I’ve seen it in a lot more conservative climates. The Northeast is fairly willing to leave the matter lie for the most part. At least, the inmate population is, not as much where a life outside the wire is concerned.

12. What are your coping methods that get you through the day?

I’ve been catching up on a lifetime of writing I hadn’t realized I’d missed. I read a book a day, give or take. I play basketball and whatever intramural sport is on offer. I take what college courses I’m able. I spend as much time as possible outside of my cell and outside the prison, if metaphorically. Reading and writing are the two fastest ways to burn a day.

Alrighty Courtney, I think that should about cover it. More questions are always welcome if you feel these worthy of pasting. Pen pals are likewise, letters are a great way to pass the time. hope you enjoy the reading and stay well.

Sincerely, Colin

If you want to write to Colin, you can send a letter to the following address:

Colin Murkette #384928
Brooklyn C.I.
39 Hartford Rd.
Brooklyn, CT 06234 USA

Before you do, however, it’s important to note that your letter can be read by corrections staff and is not private.

To read other letters from atheist inmates, go here: Atheist Inmates In Their Own Words.

If you like what I do here and want to support my work, you can donate here or become a patron here. To be notified of the next letter from an atheist inmate, please subscribe using the form in the sidebar or follow me on Twitter: @godless_mom

Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • D. Holt

    As a Police Officer for the City of Houston, I participated in a prison ministry in Sugarland, TX. The reason the incarcerated desire to know Jesus Christ as LORD is simply because these men and women have discovered that there is more to life than seeking that which ingratiates the flesh but never satisfies. No Atheist can ever explain why the incarcerated, the helpless, the down-and-out need the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ…the Atheist is spiritually dead, rebellious and an enemy of the LIVING God…their eyes do not see and their ears do not hear.

  • Well, there goes the morality argument for religion. Have a lovely day!

  • Foxglove

    “I will always work with assumptions rather than with things I know. Because working with assumptions is so much easier. I don’t have to ask questions, I don’t have to explore, I don’t have to work so hard for learning, I don’t have to sweat.

    “But the greatest advantage of working with assumptions is that it makes it so easy for me to condemn people I don’t like. There may not be any real reason to dislike them, and I might find that to be true if I got to know them a bit. Much better not to get to know them. Stick with those assumptions that allow you to so casually condemn them.

    “And finally I do all this in Jesus’ sweet name because this is what he has commanded me to do–to condemn people I know nothing about. In Christianity we call that ‘love'”.

  • Catechin

    I also discovered that “there is more to life than seeking that which ingratiates the flesh but never satisfies”. And guess what? No gods or Jesus involved in that discovery.

    “No Atheist can ever explain …”, are you serious? As once said by Christopher Hitchens: “You give me the awful impression, I hate to have to say it, of someone who hasn’t read any of the arguments against your position ever.” The correlation between religiosity and lack of well being is widely understood and documented.

    Do your homework before attacking a group of people that you barely know or understand!

  • epeeist

    That’s all you’ve got? I have seen better from those who stand on the corner of shopping malls waving their bible and proclaiming the love of Jesus. You must have seen them, they are the ones who people cross the street in order to avoid.

  • Mister Man

    Hateful much? I may be an agnostic atheist but at least my heart is full of love, compassion, and understanding. You “godly” ppl are full of hate and angst.

  • Otto
  • Raging Bee

    Actually, that atheist in the OP did a better job of explaining the needs of the incarcerated than you did. It’s a pity your beliefs don’t allow you to be as understanding toward atheists as they are toward you.

  • TheBookOfDavid

    The reason that prisoners are so much more receptive to your preaching is better explained in two words: captive audience. And your own motivation can be summed up in one: superiority. That could be inferred from the tone of your comment, but nothing emphasizes the point more than man who put some of them behind bars periodically showing up to remind the inmates who is boss.

  • Who said that?

  • Chris Hogue

    Houston’s finest working on Making America Great Again without realizing it never was.

  • Pofarmer

    Nothing like preying on the vulnerable.

  • Zeropoint

    You know that many atheists have BEEN Christians, right? That a lot of us know first-hand exactly what the “love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ” can, and more importantly, can’t do for us?

  • SeeingClearly

    Houston police officer/prison minister? Well, sounds like you would have made a terrific enforcer for Herod, too, because your compassion for mankind would have matched applicants for that job category very well, I am sure.

  • Foxglove

    I did. I just used the quotes to show that I’m putting these words in the mouth of our Christian friend above.

  • Tony D’Arcy

    D. Holt : “.the Atheist is spiritually dead, rebellious and an enemy of the LIVING God…their eyes do not see and their ears do not hear. ”

    Brotherly love – Christian style.

  • Ah, okay.

  • As an ex-Christian I understand the peculiar language that you are speaking. What you cannot understand is the pure condescension that is conveyed in your message. You can’t understand that an atheist merely means lack of belief in a deity or deities. There is no rebellion because we simply do not believe in deities, so how can we rebel against something we don’t believe exists? As an atheist I can appreciate people more fully and compassionately without having to label everyone as saved or lost. People need to love and forgive each other, not putting a deoty in the middle and expecting said deity to do what they themselves should do. I really hope you are a kind and compassionate person, but I am not getting that from your words. May you find peace and pass it along to others.

  • Syzygy

    I never forget that this “loving god” created malaria, and mosquitoes to spread it.
    And many other miseries.
    It seems D. Holt has abandoned us.

  • Gappy

    I worked in the Dept. of Corrections, all men’s prisons, for 25 years. I never once saw any sincere readiness to accept Jesus Christ but then I saw and had to deal with the inmates after you and your group left D. Holt. They drop that sincere mask once they’re back from a church service. Inmates go to worship services and/or ministering groups for several reasons. 1) it gets them out of their housing unit and cuts the boredom of incarceration.. 2) some of them go because they get to gang bang with other inmates from a different unit. 3) some of the volunteers are female. 4) some of the female volunteers are attractive. 5) some of the female volunteers have large breasts. 6) volunteers at one time were able to hug an inmate hello and goodby and inmates love hugs from big breasted women. That really covers why inmates attend worship services. You’re welcome.

  • Dan Dupree

    So, around 1968 at 12 yrs old, while forced to attend a fire and brimstone evangelical SB church I read the bible through twice and was well versed in gawds atrocities and the bibles inconsistentcies.
    A cousin, 17 yrs older than me and at 6’5″ went to Rice xtian college on a bball scholarship, married a Ms Texas runner up from a wealthy family, and had a growing, traveling youth ministry with his own plane.
    I ask him about a passage in Roman’s that indicates hell for those that haven’t heard and accepted jeebus and he verified that was his belief I thanked him for confirming my understanding of the cults is abraham and my atheism.
    A few years later he lost his ministry after being caught screwing a 16 yr old, which apparently legal in whatever state it occurred, I ask him how that forgiveness was going and he never looked me in the eye nor would he engage in conversation with me for the next 45 yrs when he died at home alone underneath a tractor he flipped over.
    Jeebus may forgive you but if an adult had sex with my underage child I wouldn’t and hell would become a very immediate thing.

  • EllyR
  • Jim Jones

    Well you’re a vile human being, aren’t you?

    Why do kiddie rapers “find god” in prison? So they can continue raping children when they get out.

  • Jim Jones

    How’s Ms Texas looking these days? Pictures?

  • Dan Dupree

    Not great I assume, having died of breast cancer. So no pictures for your weird ass.

  • Jim Jones

    No happy endings then.

  • be kind

    The columnist implies that Mr. Murkette is in jail for something like statutory rape. Assuming that this article is about him (which it probably is — it’s from a Connecticut paper and his name is an uncommon one), he has done some bad stuff. I hope he has learned the error of his ways since then.

  • And yet, they like to say we’re the angry ones. It’s weird, isn’t it?

  • Fantastic point.

  • I’m so used to it, I barely notice it anymore.

  • Lovely response. You’ve perfectly illustrated how an atheist can be the better person. Well done.

  • Yes, I imagine that’s the same guy. I, too, hope he’s done some learning.

  • wolfypuppy

    I’m proud of that. Yes, I am the enemy of any god or supernatural being and I rebelled (as a child) against people trying to impose that on me. I’m not spiritually dead, though, because spirituality has nothing to do with religion. In fact, religion kills spirituality by crushing a person’s innate sense of conscience and morals and ethics about how to treat others. It’s the conservative religious who believe “the ends justify the means.” I’ve realized, in this time of Trump, that they’re all projecting. Literally. Anything they say they’re actually saying about themselves.

  • Mister Man

    I know right?!

    I just read an article about politicians in some states wanting to bring back some methods used in capital punishment because the drugs used in lethal injection are getting harder to acquire. No surprise it’s the Christian republicans doing most of this talking. They’re anti abortion (pro life) yet at the same time they’re pro death penalty, by any means necessary at that. Some states (mostly pro life Christian republican politicians) are discussing bringing back the use of hangings, the gas chamber, electrocutions, and firing squads. I know this comment is irrelevant to the story in the blog but it shows they don’t actually believe in the sanctity of life or have the love for other human beings they say they have.

  • Priya Lynn

    The States isn’t that great. People want to come there not because its great but because Americans have bullshitted the world about it being great…much like you bullshit about how great you are.