President Obama was giving his farewell speech. He urged those who love this country to do more than just sit around and discuss our problems. “We must all accept the responsibilities of citizenship,” he contended. Right on!
That brought to mind a discussion I had had earlier in the day, as I shared a cup of coffee with Joe Whalen, Executive Director of 70X7 MUSKEGON, certainly one of the finest re-entry programs available for Michigan prisoners. Joe and I have a lot in common. HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS does its best to help prisoners while they’re still behind bars. His organization does its best to help them when they get out.
Joe said that he explains his work to a businessman, explaining all the complexities in helping prepare a former prisoner on how to be a productive member of society (a prisoner created in the image of God!). The company finally agrees to make a donation to get the job done.
I have a similar situation when I explain, to church groups, how important it is to help an inmate who was convicted of a violent crime, but who is now dying behind bars, cannot get appropriate medical care, and may be denied hospice care (a prisoner created in the image of God!). The religious group finally agrees to pray for our work.
It isn’t that 70X7 Muskegon and HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS don’t need the money, or don’t need the prayers. God knows we need both! But we need more, and it goes back to what the President said.
Item---the USA has a huge problem: mass incarceration.
Item---treatment of people behind bars, and reentry programs for those planning to leave, are woefully inadequate, in all of our states.
Take a moment to Google the prison system in Norway, where the recidivism rate is almost non-existent, where they don’t have such a thing as life sentences without parole, and where they believe that the person who committed the most vile and despicable crime is still salvageable. There would be no need for Joe’s agency, or ours, in Norway!
Russian novelist and philosopher Fyodor Dostoyevsky said this: “You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners.”
Yes, 70X7 Muskegon and HFP covet your prayers, and your dollars. Our work is more than important…it is necessary. It is vital.
But 42,000 people behind bars in Michigan need more than that. Concern and compassion must come from more than a few struggling agencies. “We must all accept the responsibilities of citizenship!”