Tuesday, September 30, 2014

To that person in the back row with pursed lips

Frequently there’s a person who disagrees.

As President of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, I’m sometimes asked to explain our work to church and civic groups. While I appreciate the support and acceptance of those smiling and nodding individuals sitting in the front, I have more concern for the one or two frowning persons with pursed lips sitting in the rear.

I’m not only concerned, but I’m sad, because I can predict with some accuracy what these people are thinking. It goes something like this:

Why do prisoners deserve any compassion, decent meals, appropriate health care, and letters from caring individuals? If they hadn’t done the crime, they wouldn’t be doing the time. This isn’t a country club. They deserve all the rudeness and mistreatment they get.

What about the victims of the crimes these people committed? Why aren’t you supporting them, instead of the criminals? That’s where the care and compassion should be directed.

What about the corrections officers? Why aren’t you raising funds for them, instead of the animals they are asked to guard? It’s a challenging job at the very least.

Before I send a message to that person in the back row, let me state for the record that we are not asking for a country club atmosphere for prisoners…we simply ask that they be provided the humane treatment that our constitution guarantees. There are agencies and organizations already in existence for victims of crimes, and HFP is a strong supporter of the concept of restorative justice. And we know there are fine corrections officers…we deal with them regularly. But there are bad ones, too.

Now to that person in the back row.

You obviously don’t know what it’s like to be the mother of a teenager who has tried to commit suicide in prison, because insensitive personnel have tampered with or discontinued all-important stabilizing medication. All this while rude guards laugh at him.

You obviously don’t know what it’s like to be the wife of an inmate who now suffers debilitating seizures, simply because the staff wouldn’t listen to his pleas to separate him from a mentally challenged bunkie. By the time he was bopped over the head with a lock it was too late. Closed head injuries. Permanent damage.

You obviously couldn’t identify with the mother of a mentally ill girl in prison, who was denied water for so long and overly medicated to the point that she’s now brain dead. Her distraught family can do nothing more than wait for her to die.

I’m sure you’d never believe that a poor black man didn’t actually commit the crime for which he served 29 years behind bars. An all-white jury surely didn’t believe him. They preferred the unsure and inconsistent testimony of shaky eye-witnesses, while the real criminal laughed all the way to the next drinking party.

And so, to that person in the back row, I suggest two prayers.

Number one, a prayer of thanks that you’ve never had to experience any of this, and that you never will have to in the future.

And number two, that God will reveal to you just what Jesus meant when he talked about showing compassion to a prisoner, as he discusses in Matthew 25.

Meanwhile, Matt and I feel secure in the knowledge that we are doing kingdom work, and we’ll keep searching for a few friendly faces in the audience.

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