That prisoner ain't heavy, Mister. He's my brother!

I remember the first time I saw the drawing. It was in the 1940s. A political cartoon showed a boy carrying a younger boy on his back. The caption read: He ain’t heavy, Mister, he’s my brother. The cartoon first appeared in The Messenger, an early 20th-century political and literary magazine.

Later, of course, it became the logo for Boys Town, and then in 1969, it became a popular ballad recorded by the likes of the Hollies and Neil Diamond.

I’m thinking about that drawing today, on the last day of the year, the last day of the decade.

Major newspapers and TV networks, in reviewing the past year and projecting news stories for the new year, are hitting on important topics like impeachment, politics, the economy, terrorism, climate change and foreign relations. To no one’s surprise, we are hearing nothing about prisoners. Not a popular topic.

I submit to you in my old year/near year message, it IS important because these are your brothers and sisters! Listen to these USA stats:

-One in five has had a parent sent to jail or prison
 -One in eight has had a child incarcerated
 -6.5 million adults have an immediate family member currently in jail or prison
-One in seven has an immediate family member who has spent at least a year behind bars
-One in 34 has an immediate loved one who has spent more than 10 years in prison.

It’s not them and us. It’s us!

I was excited to report to our Board of Directors that my church was going to designate a Sunday last October as Prisoner Awareness Sunday. Dr. Michelle Loyd-Paige, who not only serves as a trustee on our board, but also professionally serves as executive associate to the president for diversity and inclusion at Calvin University, stated that we should be thinking of a Prisoner Awareness Month. She’s right, of course.

As we end 2019, and begin a new year, I’m suggesting that in the short range, we should make 2020 Prisoner Awareness Year. But, thinking like Dr. Loyd-Paige, Prisoner Awareness Decade would be even better.

Because, like it or not, these are not numbers…they are people. These aren’t other people. These are our brothers and sisters.

Fr. Greg Boyle, who has dedicated his life to working with gang members laments: “The wrong idea has taken root in the world. And the idea is this: there just might be some lives out there that matter less than other lives.”

The entire HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS team, in extending New Year wishes, encourages a new focus on the prisoner: our brother, our sister.


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