In a cinderblock room with a concrete floor and metal bunk bed, no phones or computers ping or ding with text or Tweet alerts. For those serving time in prison, the onward march of technology could just as well be a lifetime sentence or two away. Instead, amid the unmuffled clang of heavy metal doors and the routine spontaneity of pat-downs and shake-downs, letter writing thrives as it did in the first century.

Stephen Presley, who is teaching an inaugural biblical interpretation class at a maximum-security prison near Houston, says the inmates’ familiarity with letter writing has given them a unique perspective on the epistles that comprise a large portion of the New Testament.

“They, in a very real and a very sincere way, understood what it would have been like for the early Christians to start to receive letters from Paul,” Presley said. “I think that [for] those of us who live in a world that’s dominated by email and controlled by other forms of technology, sometimes it’s hard for us to understand the genre of letter writing — the genre of the epistles.

“But for those who live in this world [behind bars], it was so easy for them to comprehend and to almost identify with the early church in the way they would have felt receiving these letters from Paul and how they would have treated the letter, perhaps, even in ways we don’t, in terms of reading it from start to finish, reading it closely and observing every word.”

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