I know, I know. It sounds terrible. Actually, I guess it should be reworded. I’m thankful for prisoners in my life, and for all the lessons I learn from them.
I am not thankful that our nation has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and that our own state keeps people in prison longer than most others.
I am not thankful that we still have over 41,000 people in the Michigan prison system, costing taxpayers $4-million a day…more than we spend on education!
I am not thankful for the numerous cases of over-charging and over-sentencing felons in Michigan, bringing about the Governor’s appointment of a committee to investigate and reform our woefully inadequate indigent defense.
I am not thankful for the lack of sentence alternatives, which could render such positive results in society if given the chance.
I am not thankful for the lack of uniformity in sentences, as seen in the wide range of sentences received by prisoners for the same crime, committed in different counties.
I am not thankful for a Parole Board that often refuses to release prisoners who have fulfilled all of their obligations by their early release date…especially sex offenders.
You get my point.
But as this 80-year-old man reflects on his daily interaction with incarcerated men and women, something that has been going on for more than 15 years, there is definitely cause for genuine Thanksgiving at this holiday time, 2016.
In the summer of 2004, after persuading the Governor to release Maurice Carter for health reasons, we never made it to Thanksgiving Day. Maurice died in October, three months after he walked out of the prison hospital. But I still remember giving thanks that year, because he not only touched Marcia and me, but he also touched the lives of our kids and grand-kids with his kindness, his love, his gentility, his faith, his ability to forgive…especially in not continuing to hold a grudge.
That’s only the beginning of the examples I can give.
I have a friend who has been wrongly convicted, whose life has been totally ruined by an imperfect judicial system and who has served 15 years…and yet, my faith cannot hold a candle to his!
I sometimes become impatient over little things like bad drivers, but I have another friend who has served over 40 years on a wrongful conviction, but whose patience never wavers…he’s optimistic that his day will come!
There are numerous friends---both men and women---who have such physical disabilities and ailments, who suffer so much, who receive such imperfect and inadequate care…and yet these people teach me how to smile in a time of adversity.
I think of a woman serving life who had made it her goal to care for a physically and mentally ailing companion who can no longer function properly on her own. Her servant-spirit reminds me how important it is to serve others under the worst of circumstances.
So, at Thanksgiving time, 2016, I thank God for the lessons I learn each day from these beautiful people---each one of them created in his image!
No wonder Jesus loved them so much! So do I.