A friend had been ill for a long time although I had no reason to believe death was near. But a heart attack changed all that. I'm so sad for a family who will have memories rather than the person in the days and years ahead. My heart is tender for her sisters in ministry who have been so blessed to know her, to learn from her sweet and gentle spirit, who have been the beneficiaries of her prayers and encouragement, her fierce love and prevailing faith. Fair winds and following seas as you go home before us, Mary.
Everything starts with prayer. Today we pray for Your Mercy Lord, that we might find our way to a more just legal system. The current situation is causing so much pain, leading to what seem to be never ending problems with brokenness upon brokenness. So we know that with problems this big we need You. We need You to draw us to a more God-pleasing, Christ-like system of dealing with the injustices of this broken world.
Lord, direct our prayers.
Romans 12:12—Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Be merciful, Lord, to all of us affected by crime, from the victims of crime to those who commit crimes, but also the first responders come when we are fearful, and all those along the journey through the legal system: judges and juries, prosecutors and defense attorneys, social workers, health care workers, and eventually detention officers and probation and parole staff and the family, friends, co-workers, church family, neighbors and acquaintances of all these because all are part of the ever expanding circles of damage caused by crime.
Lord, hear our prayers.
James 1:12—Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
We have all been wounded by crime, Lord. We are fearful, Lord. We long for our sense of safety to be restored and our longing for retribution to be fulfilled to our way of thinking. Yet, we acknowledge that even those who participated in the crime are still Your children. And we ask you to teach us to long for their redemption more than for vengeance. We acknowledge that “safety” exists only in You. This kind of deep healing is only possible in you. Praise God that You are bigger than all this.
Lord have mercy on us all.
Revelation 21:4--He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
We lift up the legal system, the criminal justice system up to you, Lord. We expect the legal system to stand in our stead, a thin blue line between safety and chaos – a process where we hope to be protected from those who seek to harm us and those we love. Yet we are learning more clearly each day the price paid by those who wade into chaos and sin on our behalf from the first responders through all the steps in the legal system and finally to the incarcerated folks who eventual return to the free world and their communities and families.
Lord have mercy on them all.
Hebrews 13:3--Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Lord, we have longed to believe that laws protect us although we understand that is not possible; for if laws protected us there would surely be no domestic violence, no vehicular manslaughter. We listened to the siren call of politicians’ promises to make us safe by being more harsh, yet now we are less safe than ever. Lord, how do we balance consequences with rehabilitation, balance honoring the pain and loss of victims with the call to prevent future damage by someone who lacks impulse control and the capacity to foresee the damage their actions do to others, both strangers and those they love, but are still your beloved child..
Lord, give us Your Courage and Your Wisdom.
Romans 8:38-39--For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Lord, the Pharisees believed they were “right” in crucifying you. Pilot believed he was making the right decision for the protection of his employer’s interest. The crowd provided the noise, the energy to make such stunning injustice seem not only OK but desirable. Lord we know we have been part of just such a mob as we have demanded to be safer while hiding our eyes from outrageous miscarriages of justice that such fear births.
Lord, break our hearts made hard by fear that we might have tender hearts for those seeking to serve you in new ways, living better lives, reaching back to help those still living in such darkness.
Micah 6:8--He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Christ’s rising announces that we are all restored, rehabilitated, renewed both from our sins and from the ways other’s sins and carelessness wound us. Yes, Lord, we acknowledge we are each and all in need of healing, healing from wounds of body and soul and mind and heart. Yes, Lord, we acknowledge that we are all in need of forgiveness given and received. We are exhausted from trying to care for ourselves. Today we choose to rest confidently in you. Teach us to forgive and to accept forgiveness!
2 Corinthians 5:18b--All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
Prayer going forth:
Protect us Lord, from the lies fear would tell us. Fill our hearts with love for each other, for all your children. Make our tender hearts strong enough to look brokenness and fear and darkness in the face that your love might shine from You through us into a world that is in such utter need of healing, hope, peace, joy, love, truth and light….In need of You.
Lord, have mercy.
Over my lifetime I've been told I sometimes have an angry voice. You betcha. I'm passionate about trying to sow comfort in a wounded and distressed world. And too often I forget that my anger at stupidity and just plain meanness and selfishness can actually add to the wounds of the tender heart before me. It can even add fuel to the raging pain in the person causing the pain. Yes, I believe that most angry people are feeding on their own wounds, wounds so deep and fearful that ANYTHING is better than facing them...even wounding those they love most dearly.
And yes, I believe we are ALL wounded ... by so many things:
The meanness of others.
The thoughtlessness of others which might be more painful than the meanness if it means we are invisible.
Not getting things we believe we are owed or due.
Getting more than we think we are due (consequences).
Fearing that we are not "good enough" or important or have worth.
Fear of pain: physical, emotional, social, financial.
And, frankly I believe all those wounds are real, valid, rational. I have concerns about LIVING there, but we'll discuss that another time.
Today I want to consider that last item, fear of .... everything. For folks dealing with the aftermath of criminal behavior I see the fear being nearly consuming. When it blossoms from "nearly consuming" into consuming we become a part of the problem in sad and terrifying ways, which is why our human tendency to wallow in our pain is so very dangerous.
Victims and survivors of crimes have losses, from the loss of a loved one's life to the loss of quality of life to financial losses that can last decades. And in the wake of all that loss is the loss of security, loss of the belief that we can keep ourselves and those we love safe....and the loss of a sense of safety in our own homes, workplace or community...from bars to churches.
But here is the deal. That is also true for every person touched by the ever widening circle of fear and pain that emanates from a crime. First responders, neighbors, legal system participants from jurors to prosecutors to judges, attorneys, investigators, medical and social service professionals, churches, and corrections folks, those who commit crimes and those who are accused of crimes and their families. And lots of these folks can only hope to find any kind of justice if they wade into the swamp with the spectrum of victims. Today in my city we are reminded of that cost as a police officer succumbed to self-inflicted injury. Most folks in the legal system have three choices: (1) Ignore the pain, covering up with humor or gruffness; (2) Self medicate with alcohol, adrenaline or something even more quickly self-destroying; (3) Find some less soul assaulting profession; or (4) Crucify it. By that I mean have an experience similar to AA or NA, etc. where there is both a reality check (No you are not in control...but neither are any of us, my friend,) and a course of recovery in the arms of a healing and wise God.
Does that last sound familiar? Is that what we long for our incarcerated or criminally behaving loved one to "get"? Is this what we need ourselves?
So, no matter where we are in this life and the microcosm of life that is a journey through the legal system, the truth is this: we are all dealing with the same junk, with the same temptations to deal with the junk in ways both self-destructive and destructive to those we love the most, AND we each and all stand in God's ever-present love beckoning us no matter into what pain we have wandered or fled.
We are all in this together, my friends. And there is hope...abundant hope.....always.
I am not a crazed football fanatic, but I have enjoyed half a century of watching my local team play, giving us many moments of excitement and fun and lots of disappointments. We have spent most of that time trying to "make it to the Super Bowl again." For the past two seasons we have had hope riding high on a young quarterback setting NFL records and charming a city with poise unusual in someone so young. You may have heard of him: Patrick Mahones.
But amidst all the excitement building to the AFC playoffs, a friend died, leaving a beloved widow with a lifetime of precious memories and a new loss in a life that has known plenty of loss already.
So young Mr. Mahones's comment after the season ending loss was ringing in my ears as I thought about my friend's passing. "It hurts, but it is supposed to hurt."
Part of our physical survival and mental health resides in a primal desire to avoid pain. We spend a lot of time telling a young child to not touch a hot stove (ouchie!) or not to run on hard, uneven surfaces, or not to say mean things. And as adults a major responsibility is to count the cost of things we are considering doing: Can we make the mortgage payments? Is this business opportunity legal and, even more import, good for my family and my community?
So pain avoidance is very important. But this leaves us with problems when pain is unavoidable, when we lose something very dear to us whether it is in a failed professional goal, or in the aftermath of a crime, or at the death of a beloved one. Loss is unavoidable because we care about people. We care about making a difference. We care about our reputation and our future. And we suffer losses small and large all our lives. In fact, I believe that how we learn to deal with loss deeply affects our quality of life for all our lives.
My husband needed a medical procedure. It was important but not an emergency so we had to find a surgeon and hospital "within network". We matched a physician our doctor said had a good reputation with the information on the web to choose a doctor. Folks were surprised we chose a doctor who had paid a modest compensation for an earlier surgical error. But I have never seen any surgical team be SO committed to making sure that they were proceeding with great care and attention to detail. The physician had not allowed a mistake to leave him too fearful to use his education, training and skill to give my husband an excellent outcome. He did not become so overwhelmed with fear and remorse that he closed up shop; instead he chose to become a better doctor.
When my first marriage failed and I was a young single mother, I was angry, worried and frightened. But I chose to be very intentional in learning all I could, figuring out how to go forward and renewing my relationship with God. I figured out very quickly that I have NO ability to make someone else do what I wanted them to do. I had tried as hard as I knew how in every way I could imagine so I saw that relationship as a closed door that only God could open again and only as it was "for the best." I will be forever sorry that my children did not have the security of an intact family as they grew up. But I am forever grateful for all the blessings that they and I do have because, freed from the distraction of trying to superglue a failing relationship, I was free to let God rebuild my relationship with Him.
So much of that rebuilding and renewal was painful, but so much less painful than the path I was on, believing I could work hard enough, be strong enough, be smart enough, care enough on my own to do life fully, to protect my children from pain, to find the best way forward.
As I have gotten older I have tried to be more intentional in relishing "the moment" -- the first rays of dawn, a child's smile, sweet breezes, completed passes, a marriage renewed, the tenderness of farewells, watching love overcome fear. And I've gotten a bit better at remembering that pain comes with a potential for blessings, for gratitude that slowly outpaces the sorrow, gratitude for having had the blessing and for the comfort that God wraps around us and for the new challenges and blessings that lay before us as long as we reside in this world.
And I've come to thank God for the pain because it has always been fertile ground for shedding the unimportant and wrapping myself in God's consistent, tender and able care, and God's unending love.
I've been reading The Book of Forgiving by Bishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu. The background and powerful history of this book is fascinating and hopeful.
But this jumped off the page and grabbed my heart: "None of us wants to have our life story to be the sum of all the ways we have been hurt." Wow. Just WOW! How often I have welcomed, even clung to hurts and slights and disrespectful comments because it SEEMS like if I stay vigilant I can keep myself from being hurt.
Of course, it never works that way. Instead whether I let my wrath fly against my perceived and real dangers (often escalating the danger) or I stuff it down deep to "maintain control," the sad reality is that it takes up space in my life, either spewing harm to those I "take it out on" or eating a whole in my gut as I put on a "happy face."
The only relief for me has been to lay all my hurts on Jesus. But I spent three years trying to figure out what God was trying to get me to understand to help me forgive a grandmother for something I learned she had done decades before her death. I KNEW I was wasting seconds and minutes and hours and days into weeks, months and years wasting energy on anger that could only damage me. But I could NOT let it go! I finally found my way through so I can again remember tender moments with that grandmother and have compassion for the wounded little girl that grew into an angry, injuring adult.
And when I look back I realize that God was working me through the steps that Bishop Tutu formalized to help his people and nation move forward in ways that embrace our connectedness, our deep longing for peace and hope and love.
So, this Holiday Season, as nerves are frayed and we are sometimes expected to "make nice" with family and friends who get under our skin, we can consider something new. We now have a resource to help us consider where we can root out fear so joy can expand; where we can let go of resentment, fear and discord, and embrace a much higher level of peace, healing and restoration and/or release.
I got it from the library, liked it so much I wanted it as a personal resource so I bought a paper copy which I decided was better given to a dear friend who had shared a desire to understand forgiveness more, bought an ebook for myself then bought another audio copy for someone dear who indicated they would be more likely to read it in that format. I tell you this to stress this point: I believe in the power of forgiveness and I believe that is a wonderful resource for people looking to live life more fully, more courageously, more joyously.
"This may seem an unusual column for me to write, for I’m not a particularly religious Christian. But I do see religious faith as one of the most important forces, for good and ill, and I am inspired by the efforts of the faithful who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
Perhaps unfairly, the pompous hypocrites get the headlines and often shape public attitudes about religion, but there’s more to the picture. Remember that on average religious Americans donate far more to charity and volunteer more than secular Americans do.
It is not the bureaucracy that inspires me, or doctrine, or ancient rituals, or even the most glorious cathedral, temple or mosque, but rather a Catholic missionary doctor in Sudan treating bomb victims, an evangelical physician achieving the impossible in rural Angola, a rabbi battling for Palestinians’ human rights — they fill me with an almost holy sense of awe. Now, that’s religion." (Columnist Nicholas Kristof writing for New York Times News Service)
What does the way WE live say to folks who have not yet met our God? God meets everyone where they are, but we too often say "Come over here and believe we are always completely right and God will love you." This is such blasphemy! Get caught by a non-Christian doing something Christ-like today!
Domestic violence is often among the most destructive crimes for many reasons, but two stand out:
(1) Try as we might, it is hard not to blame the victims, at least adults, but even children are asked, "Why didn't you tell any one?" "Why did you not get help?" But such questions are the answer: domestic violence victims are often not believed, not comforted, not protected and are thereby violated again, resulting in their capacity to trust taking much serious and intentional rebuilding, often over years. (I understand that some of this happens because the person hearing the news is in the denial/shock part of grief plus we feel guilt that we did not protect our loved one -- but those very human but essentially selfish responses too often override basic human kindness causing addiitonal harm.)
(2) At one moment in time we are a family, maybe bickering or even fighting, but a family around a table with history present in the perspective and hopefully wisdom of our older family members, and hope for the future as weddings and babies and even funerals bring shared joys and griefs, and even shared disappointments form gossamer webs of family ties. But the moment that domestic abuse and violence comes barreling out the closet either because it erupts in such a public way that it can no longer be denied or ignored, or because formal charges are filed, suddenly the family has fractures along stress lines. We ask each other: Do you believe it? Is it possible we missed this? Whose fault is it? How can we protect the children, older adults, our image, our children's future? Too rarely does someone just sit with the injured person or with stunned parents and the children who have lived and witnessed all that led to this moment. The very people that we are most likely to expect to give us encouragement, love and support are divided, warring, taking too much blame, denying responsibility and generally too overwhelmed to find a place to be mutually supportive. And those who try to do that are often treated with great cruelty by other family member stuck in the blame and shame game.
For the Justice League of America quality super-heroes, often themselves recovering from domestic abuse, who work in shelters, run hot lines, conduct classes in finance, employment skills and self-care, play with and tutor traumatized children, find homes for traumatized pets and generally form a very fragile and under-supported safety net, we thank you. We honor your service. We are grateful for the resource you are to us, to our families and to our community for people seeking to find that most undervalued of blessings: a safe home for ourselves and our children.
I have been reading Writing My Wrongs by Shaka Shegnor. He is eloquent in telling a tale whose beginning is all too familiar of a young life gone stunningly wrong and his subsequent journey to victory and a productive life. But one statement has haunted me (I paraphrase): I was unhappy at the consequences and honestly wanted to "do better" as my choices began to become obvious, horrible, terrifying. I truly wanted to do better, be a better person....but I wanted that to be easy. So with each opportunity to make better choices I was careless and quickly slipped back into choices that "felt good" but were dragging me further away from joy, kindness, love and hope. It was not until I was WHOLLY committed to being different, doing different, at any cost, did permanent change begin to establish roots in my life. This freed me from my self-focus to begin looking for truth, for light, for wisdom. I was actually looking for love, for THE LOVE. And God drew me to a life I could never have imagined.
So this morning's reading in Psalms brought Mr. Shenor's journey to mind. "Anyone can come to you, [God], and you will hear their prayers. When our sins become too heavy for us, you wipe them away. Oh, how wonderful it is to be the people you chose to come and stay in your Temple." (PS 65:2-4 ERV). I think the phrase "you chose to come" might be better understood if we include a sense of beckoning, for God does not casually choose us as we choose a pair of shoes or choose an educational path or even as we often choose God, with limited initial understanding or long-term commitment. For God continues to beckon us, actively keeps God's promises and covenants, loves us (an active verb, not merely a state of being), guides us, teaches us.
God keeps the door open, even as we become more certain that we have gone too far wrong to ever be "OK" again. God sees our future, one of hope and purpose and rehabilitation, all possible even from the quicksand filled swamp we too often make of our own lives. Then when our longing for the "something better" that is our inheritance, our permanent right because Jesus has made it so, begins to tug at us, our broken hearts tell us the biggest lie of all...that we need to do better, be better before God will even listen to us!
But the truth is this: God's grace is available ALL THE TIME, even when we are running amok, self-will run riot, harming all who love us, and our selves most of all. When we are sufficiently weary, exhausted, utterly done with doing it our own way, we give way to God's way of doing things and God begins the healing in that moment.
Mr. Shenor's journey reflects this experience and I am very grateful that he has so generously shared his experience with a wider audience. And I praise the God who remade him into a force for good in his community. May this story be replicated in the lives of prisoners everywhere.
After the 9/11 attacks a study was done with students in urban Detroit. It found their anxiety level had not changed much. But I have heard friends and colleagues speak of the radical change in their lives after 9/11, a new sense of urgency or even fearfulness as though they had not expect this could happen "here" or to "us" or to "me". But these children in the crumbing inner-city of Detroit had never had such illusions, because their neighborhoods and schools were not safe long before Sandy Hook. Nearly all had had a near relative either killed or seriously injured in their run-of-the-mill chaotic world. They had seen teens try to avoid being involved in lawlessness only to be harmed by those they sought with a whole heart to avoid. They had seen parents and grandparents struggle with grinding poverty, crumbling school buildings, jobs fleeing the city, and the ever present specter of being one emergency away from homelessness, less than enough food or falling into an overcrowded foster care system.
For some of us, our beloved parent, trusted life-partner or dearly loved child begins making choices that cause concern; slowly trust is eroded and the relationship changes as a result long before the problem is generally known. Other times folks put on a "good face" and the sudden fall from respected community leader finds even their nearest and dearest wholly unprepared. Either way the new reality of legal troubles, financial ruin and public disgrace comes as a shock to family and friends. If it is a sufficiently public event we may have a camera and microphone shoved in our face when we are still reeling from the shock and the questions that trail into the years ahead, "How did this happen?" "What could I have done to prevent this?" And maybe eventually, as we share the journey of other families dealing with criminal behavior and/or incarceration, we begin to say, "Thank God it was not worse".
However it comes, a crime, news of a crime, response to a crime touches hundreds of lives from survivors to law enforcement to the person arrested, to the courtroom personnel and defense personnel, to the jail and prison personnel, to social workers and medical workers educators and community members who have to deal with the multiple layers of response and then add the families of each and every one of these folks who are touched in the ever widening circles of anxiety, expense, emotional exhaustion and destruction of one small act. It is not an act of kindness or courage that might be acknowledged by a grateful recipient, but rather acts of carelessness and wanton selfishness that get no benefit from the tsunami of damage it releases.
This is why it is so important to be thoughtful, the current buzz word is "mindful" of our choices. There are just too many people living in the aftermath of a moment, a choice that is remembered with confusion and pain and the cry "But I never intended for it to go that far!"
We each need to make a personal decision to "do no harm" as we seek response to the challenges of our culture, our lives is a step in the right direction, because reacting (rather than responding) can boost us right into legal trouble in a nanosecond. And the circles of destruction get a boost we never intended.
I had so hoped after the election we would have a space where sound bites and instant analysis would give way to well researched factual information. But months latter we still seem we take the latest "hot" news and have it ground out over days with every rumor reported, but little valuable information provided. Even false rumors seem to get a Rosana-Bananadana-esque "Never mind" rather than a clear retraction aired with corrections seeming to air for a fraction of the time spent pouring wild erroneous rumor mongering into our ears and eyes. We ruin reputations based on what someone or their family member did decades ago, but don't blink when people with clout are not held accountable in the most blatant and public misbehavior....just give them a golden parachute and send them on their way or announce they are going into "rehab" for whatever decades old crimes might have been uncovered -- whether a CEO or a politician or a media big shot or a star sports figure or a plunderer of charity funds.
I do thank God for the freedom of the internet to access a wide array of foreign news sources and credible research information so at least I can hear a broader perspective. But it only helps a little since this all just seems so insane. And into this has poured hurricanes, the catastrophe that is Puerto Rico, earthquakes, drought and raging fires, international political intrigue and tensions, and the barrage of shots fired in Las Vegas that rivals the Murrah Federal Building explosion in stirring fear. I can't say I am surprised that some folks wonder if this is "final days."
But amid the news cycle and the weather challenges and the human loss and despair we stand with the same choice we had a week ago or a month ago or a year ago. Do we turn to God and seek comfort and wisdom and courage to be God's hands and feet to a hurting world? Or do we continue to rely on our own understanding, which frankly I believe leads only to despair and a desperate sort of selfishness?
Will you turn outward toward God, and chose to act as God's servant to God's people? Or will you turn inward where fear causes pain to fester and wounds to grow more dangerous?
May the Lord of peace himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with all of you. 2 Thessalonians 3: 16
Today we gather, our KAIROS Outside ladies and men, to set up and begin our Weekend #11 retreat. We will make beds, set up registration, begin cooking, and generally prepare for our precious guests to arrive.
Some know each other; most do not. This makes it an act of great courage to agree to come play at the camp with others they do not know when so often they have been disappointed by those they hold most dear. They are invited because they share a common experience: someone they care deeply about has been incarcerated. For some it is for a very short time; for other it is for a lifetime and anywhere in between, but some of the multitude of challenges have been experienced by all. All have experienced at some point, embarrassment, loss, guilt, rude behavior from family and church family, financial challenges, or public scorn because of the behavior of another simply because they are related to them and/or love them.
This is not an easy ministry. We develop deep connections with folks who often have some scalding sorrows in their lives and agreeing to walk with them, even for a short distance, is not for the faint of heart. Because of this we go to great lengths to not be a part of their list of disappointments, of people who did not follow through, of folks who turned away because their burdens break hearts.
So we have spend many hours over several weeks in study, team formation, prayer and courageous transparency with each other as we beseech God to make our hearts tender and resilient, help us let go of assumptions, judgement or bias about who God loves (more); learning to listen and listen and love and love with hands and feet and soft words and lots of tissues for us and for our guests.
Will you pray with us? Will you pray for us?
I was reading a list of services our government has identified that would help former foster care residents to avoid arrest and/or incarceration, dropping out of school, getting pregnant, getting abducted or inveighed into sexual bondage, destroying their financial assets and damaging their financial future, impairing their employability or any of a laundry list of other baggage that a child with a tattered or shattered childhood does not need.
It makes me think about how much I learned in my teens and into my adult years from advice and counsel from my parents, grandparents and extended family. I had older and wiser counsel and practical help in recovering from mistakes. I was given second chances because someone coached me in how to navigate the business world or how to recover when I had failed to meet government requirements like licensing and taxing laws.
Even the best foster parents, overwhelmed with on-going challenges and government forms and stretching dollars often don't think far enough ahead; if they do, experience has taught them that they have a too high likelihood of not having an extended relationship with their wards. Some states "require" children "aging out" of foster care have a transition plan. Ironically in most states that is required to start less than a year (one said 90 days) before the aging out event. Does this seem sensible? Can we "instant teach" budgeting, how to read a pay stub, how and when to file taxes, what to do if you have a legal dispute (landlord, EEOC, child support, running afoul of infractions, misdemeanors or some class F felonies for example) where legal aid is not provided. How often do they sit down to teach a teenager how to fill out an employment application or help them do a mock interview? Do they have the resources to instruct on how to avoid a scam or what to do if you suspect a scam? Do they help them get together the documents that they will need in life such as birth certificates, state IDs or driver's licenses, health history, or contact information for extended family? Do they have materials to help them understand how to register for college or apply to take a GED? Do they understand how to access health care or how to manage their own health issues? Pretty sure their ability to help develop an ethical or spiritual base is frowned upon as most references I have found are wholly secular.
There are thousands of things my folks taught me (though much is more complicated now). But there were lots of things they knew, and they had years to introduce me to things like political issue research and to model voting regularly. They were active in their communities and churches in trying to give a hand up to folks who were struggling. When I moved to another state after more than 50 years living where I grew up, I was amazed at how much I suddenly didn't know from how to get help for an abandoned pet, to traffic law differences, to how the local government worked, to where to call for many small problems and challenges. This makes me feel great concern for young people who can not be making much more than minimum wage, are likely targets for scams and abuse, and are PTSD prone considering that Happy Days are not the launching pad for foster care. They often have physical and mental health issues that make access to medical care imperative and complicated.
I have stumbled. My family members have stumbled. We consulted; we researched, we reached out to each other and our extended families to find our way through. We were anxious, lonely, conflicted and family was there for us. Foster "graduates" may have some family support, but often the extended family is struggling too with broken relationships, financial hardship, limited education and narrow life experiences. Too often foster care does not or can not foster building closer ties with birth families.
Who stands for these young men; who stands with these young women who have already known more sorrow and poverty and distress than many of us know in a lifetime.
Again my tax dollars are making things worse rather than better and my church speaks of long-range goals and allocation of resources.
From images of distended bellies to children bedraggled and injured by famine, political unrest, natural disasters or domestic violence all tug at our hearts. Surely their haunted eyes tug at the hearts of all people who have hearts.
So this statistic makes me want to weep: Of the more than 18,500 endangered runaways reported to NCMEC in 2016, one in six were likely victims of child sex trafficking. Of those, 86 percent were in the care of social services when they went missing. ( www.missingkids.com/KeyFacts ). That works out to 2651 foster children each year, averaging 7 per day who have been tracked into sexual slavery while being cared for by their own government.
These are boys and girls who have been removed from a home environment where no reliable, willing family member has been identified to step into a child's life which has already been far from a "Leave It To Beaver" moment. We are removing children from non-violent offenders, not all of which have been identified as dangerous parents, with the hope that we are "saving them from a horrible life" even when there is no evidence for that. Increases in incarceration of women caught up on the fringes of criminal behavior (driven largely by unethical behaviors related to plea-bargaining) is adding to an already horrid situation.
If you would like to know what life is like for post-foster care kids, an extensive study was done in 2007 by the Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago is available here: www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/07/pdf/071212.foster.study.pdf . Many suffer from mental illness and other health issues. The rate of incarceration for foster care graduates, dropout rates and teen pregnancy rates are stunning. Such an in-depth study from 2007 indicates that a decade ago many of these issues were identified and some folks were looking for solutions. How many of these most vulnerable of our children will be lost to poverty, life-style choices (how do they learn to be adults?), more broken relationships and a general lack of knowledge about how to do life before we find a way to give them a hand up?.
Remember this: not until 2015 were federal laws passed requiring states to report missing foster care children, even very young ones. So, why was a law needed? And how scary is that?
There are so many horrors on the news in recent weeks, from hurricanes to earthquakes to mass shootings. It is enough to entice us all to give up helping as there are just too many needs.
But we must persevere with hope. Of course we need to be careful about the goals we set. I am certain that heads of drug cartels and corrupt corporations and those folks whose political careers led to news conference pictures of head-hanging shame all had plenty of "grit" and passion and perseverance.
But here is the deal. If the we who are working to improve communities, to be solid (though of course not perfect) parents; who are learning from the wise folks, encouraging and help others in their good efforts; learning, acting, loving with hands and feet; advocating and working for justice: if we give up, will things get better? Will you have more hope? Will you give up on other difficult things like being friends with broken folks, or walking with the sad, distress, wounded who share our space, even when they are family? children?
Some are called to increasing responsibilities on boards, councils, committees supporting social justice and political action. Some write books or songs. Some make speeches to and personally advocate with folks who can make better decision for our communities and countries. Some are called to write a note; make a phone call; to assure the man waiting at the VA that he is seen, the woman in line to visit a loved one in jail that she is heard; to be the one who reaches out to heal a rift.
I know you are a perfectly fine lady or gent, but frankly, that is just not enough. I know it is scary, even overwhelming, but it is so worth it. If you can make just one life better, it will make your own life better. If you can lead the charge for better conditions for the poor, the under-educated, the vulnerable on a larger scale, is your reluctance so great that you can lay your abilities, your praying voice, your intellect, your physical capacities aside when it is your loved one who might be blessed, even it is in a generation yet unborn?
We need to heed where our tax dollars are spent, to hold political folks, social service agencies, educators, law enforcement accountable. But we must first BE accountable. And we need to remember that folks who need to be held accountable are human beings with their own burdens and challenges. So we need to forgo railing at bad apples, in favor of offering to be a part of the solution.
If you are a member of a church and they can't help you connect to an opportunity to be a force for positive change, then change churches or advocate for them to step up or call the United Way or any other agency that tugs on your heart! Look around at your neighbors, family, church family, friends, co-workers for ideas. Pay attention to the local political legislation and advocacy efforts and speak out for those who have compromised voices. Leave your ego at home and really listen wherever you go and God will give you ears and grow your heart and take your abilities and infuse them with His Power and His Wisdom.
I have long believed that being a correctional officer is about the most difficult job around. Surely our local jail is setting new standards in making this a dangerous and miserable job.
Yesterday the news had two jail stories:
No, today is not a good day for our local County Executive and County Commissioners. The have spent many months aware of the problems and responding with two separate audits, much posturing and no leadership as the elected county official with the "ultimate" responsibility for the jail was quoted this summer as saying “things happen in a jail” and publicly contradicting the County Prosecutor, County Sheriff and the Presiding Judge of our Circuit Court (all accountable to the voters in this county) about the seriousness of the situation.
So, fellow taxpayers, exactly how bad do things need to get before we are flooding the mail rooms, jamming the switchboards, sending countless emails and standing for justice. Surely the most "law-&-order-means-more-punishment" oriented citizens do not believe that this situation has ANY redeeming parts. A jail where lawlessness prevails is an embarrassment to honest people everywhere. A jail where the most vulnerable of the incarcerated and those who have been asked by us, the public, to be employed there are persistently and frequently subjected to violence, rape, intimidation, filth, lawlessness, and a range of disgusting and dangerous conditions demands each of us be more than appalled.** We must ACT.
Yet there is no public or political or faith-based group calling for County government, Law Enforcement, Prosecuting and Judicial stakeholders leadership to form and support a task force of their folks along with organizations who have been studying and are knowledgeable about responsible changes that are needed. There improvements already initiated in jurisdictions across the country that are proving fiscally prudent, effective in improving public safety, capable of sustaining a tolerable working environment, and meeting their responsibilities to limit punishment to that meted out by the courts. State laws need to be updated so our court system is empowered to make changes reforming those things that are NOT working here in ways that have already been demonstrated to be successful working elsewhere. Where is the sense of urgency to keep our correctional officers safe, to keep those who are incarcerated safe (by far the majority of which are incarcerated more for being poor than being dangerous), for standing for basic human dignity in ways that improve public safety rather than being the essence of unjust, unsafe and unlawful.
There is no evidence that any management personnel have been held accountable for failures in their areas of responsibility. We have not been given assurances that possible complicity by management in criminal behavior by staff is being investigated locally either by the Sheriff or by the County officials with personnel oversight responsibility.
With all the myriad of problems from criminal charges to civil lawsuits, to fiduciary irresponsibility by public officials, to what may be the most hostile working conditions outside of a war zone, I begin to believe that ONLY returning to Federal Oversight*** (neither a cost effective not particularly efficient option) may be the only hope for the poor, the disenfranchised and those employed at the Jackson County Jail.
The longer we are complaisant, the more our public elected officials fail to meet the most minimal of human needs by the staff, the burgeoning incarcerated population and their families. Not one of us is safer because this is being allowed to await federal or state judicial intervention.
When the righteous cry out, the Lord listens;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he saves those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34: 17-18
* People incarcerated in Ag Seg generally only get one hour a day out of their cells for exercise although even this can be withheld for the most violent/unpredictable or due to staffing shortage, a chronic problem in jails and prisons across the country and a major, long-term problem at our local jail.
** the Jail's website touts the nearly $3 million dollars spent this summer to repair 488 doors. Surly the lack of doors capable of keeping the person INSIDE the cell safe from violent offenders is a basic responsibility of any jail or prison and a basic need to keep correctional officers safe. Might such a cell being available to the CO who was assaulted so heinously have provided time to get help to him before he was beaten so severely?
*** For roughly two decades, starting in the 1980s, the jail was operated under the direct supervision of the federal court. That oversight ended only after officials added beds to ease overcrowding concerns.
Two of my adult children have a heart for animal rescue work. These are the folks that see an emaciated dog chained in a sparse yard trying to find a spot of shade and don't just click their tongues and look away. They work with an organization that reaches out to the pet owners and offer a gift of a bigger water bowl and a longer, lighter chain and maybe a tube of something to help heal the sores caused by the dog trying to escape the miseries of thirst and excessive heat. If the owner can't or won't learn how to treat the animal better, they may have to refer the animal for removal. I'm very proud of them because they are acting rather than complaining.
But when I see them with rescued dogs I can't help but wonder how long it takes the dog to trust, to replace horrid memories with new memories of kindness and proper care.
I know that I am like that when I realize I have been doing things that harm me, things God has "forbidden" not because He is harsh or cruel or wants to "spoil our fun" but because those things harm us and those we love. So when we awake to the wrong behavior and begin to realize the danger that behavior poses to ourselves and to those we love, that is often not enough -- just realizing. We also have to act in new ways, to let God heal us to the point we can believe God is cheering for us and sending us blessings (wise friends, good books, movies with hope, songs that touch our heart, amazing sunrises at the beach and awe-inspiring sunsets behind grand mountains, and soothing walks in the woods, to name a few). Such things teach us to hope, to believe that we are not so far "gone" that God can't care about us.
Like that frightened, abused puppy we need a new life to replace the painful one we have experienced. To find a new way we need to talk to God (pray), study about God (read the Bible in a translation that speaks to your heart), find trustworthy friends in a church who serve honestly, and sometimes with little steps and sometimes with giant leaps we begin to replace fear with Love, anxiety with Trust, despair with Hope.
God has important plans for us, to reclaim for us what we were born to be, to love as we are loved by God, to show kindness toward others without expectation of getting anything in return. God has infinite patience with those who seek Him -- God loves you exactly as you are. This is the most excellent way of living.
St. Paul wrote, “I will show you the most excellent way.” - 1 Corinthians 12:31 (NIV)
I was contemplating how our legal system became such an unmitigated nightmare and I began to think of my own slow dawning awareness of the multitude of levels, issues, individuals, agencies, communities and the myriad of challenges. Some crimes seemed to have simmered for years: domestic abuse, sexual assault, fraud and scams, and hate crimes come to mind. Some crimes seem to be a result of no thought at all, but rather impulsive acts with no thought of consequences from a lost temper, a crime of opportunity (impulsive shop lifting, car jacking, theft, assault, dealing drugs to get drugs, revenge, retaliation and rage) all with little or no planning and certainly no thought of potential consequences for self, victims or the legion of others whose lives will change in that moment.
And we have plenty opportunity to be entertained and educated at the same time. After all since Law & Order arrived on our TVs in our living rooms 27 years ago we have had access to 1,096 original episodes and a movie plus 27 years of reruns in which to dissect the ins and out of the criminal justice system. Except, of course, if you have ever lived in a family, worked in the medical field, been a nerd, been in the military, worked as a firefighter, had Friends, worked for a university, etc. you are well aware that television does not present anything like reality. When Law & Order first arrived on the scene it was so much more "gritty" and tackled some issues of ethics and victim angst and wrongful conviction and corruption and gangs and crimes against children and women and elder folks that had been handled more obliquely before.
But in some ways that seems to be a part of the problem...the very increase in addressing some difficult issues seems to have caused unrealistic beliefs that "finally we know the truth." But just like you who have worked in painfully dysfunctional offices without the levity provided by Steve Carell or Drew Carey, or who have been closely associated with self-destructive sexual predators without the laugh-track from 2-1/2 Men understand that TV is more about keeping people entertained than in sticking to reality. And so people at all levels of the legal system find the 47 minutes of Law & Order self-serving at best. And you will note that no successful sit-com is situated in a correctional faculty or with a low-income family trying to rebuild their lives after serving a sentence for their most public mistake both of which are about has hilarious as terminal cancer.
And, frankly, investigating, learning, and processing the challenges, and struggling to find better options than the current legal system offers is hard, frightening, disheartening and heart-breaking work.
But the current system is only building unethical bad guys faster than the Terminator can mow them down. Boys in foster care are showing up in prisons at a rate of 4 in 10 by age 21 and their poor education levels (often exacerbated by the incarceration of care givers, the chaos in foster care, too common PTSD and frequent school changes all put these most victimized of children into unacceptably high risk environments, failing to even address the issues of how they learn to care for themselves as adults, how honorable men and women behave, how to be the people they were created to be. We truly throw them away, judging them harshly while offering no life-preserver in ever more treacherous seas.
Television speaks of crimes and crime victims, the challenging life of law enforcement personnel and prosecutors with little respect for attorney's although those who can afford able representation generally fair much better in the legal system than those without. Television clearly indicates that when the trial is over the story has ended, which is a huge lie. Victim's and their families are still damaged by the crime. Prison staff and prisoners serve time together and the families of each pay unique prices for the challenges that exist in prisons and jails every day.
So please do not skip over the newspaper and ezine articles on the US legal system. The growing numbers of incarcerated, dwindling numbers of those who find a better way while incarcerated, the proliferation of laws, inequitable prosecution and sentencing, the fracturing of families and communities are all roaring forward as more folks who were over-sentenced since the "get tough on crime" efforts in the 1980s and 1990s that have lead to overcrowding being the rule rather than the exception across the country, have lured us to this time when those sentences are ending with a lot of very under-skilled folks who have given up much hope of leading productive lives or rebuilding relationships which leads to depression (and self-medication) or rage being discharged with few skills in communities without the resources to improve the situation.
This pending fracture to society is building in every state. In Kansas three of the nine prisons are dealing with dangerous staff shortages and the myriad of problems that feeds.
In Law & Order we often hear about the infamous jail on Ryker's Island. It has been deemed wholly corrupt, responsible for injuries and death of people who have never even been tried, much less convicted and many with very minor crimes but who are too poor to pay fines, court costs or bail. The mayor said it would take 20 years to make it better, then changed it to 10 years if they could drop the jail population from 10,000 to 5,000.
In Jackson County, elected county officials responsible for the jail recently stated proudly they had allocated $2.8 million to repair 488 sliding cell doors which means neither those incarcerated nor those overseeing them have been protected from violence. Staff shortages have been exacerbated by increased absenteeism which seems a logical outcome of running an unsafe and unnecessarily stressful work place. There are law suits by those who have been incarcerated and by former staff citing dangerous conditions and injuries, two deaths of incarcerated persons related to questionable medical care, two audits paid for by the county to say this is immoral and dangerous, 200 federal agents who arrived to arrest two correctional officers, an inmate and a civilian for trafficking in contraband including cell phones, drugs and cigarettes ... to name some of the problems reported in the news and cited in the audits. Yet public officials from the County Prosecutor to the County Executive to the County Sheriff all say it is horrid, bad, must be fixed, yet seem to say it is "not that bad."
The children of the wealthy do not generally find their daughters jailed who were picked on on traffic violations and sent to overnight in the jail only to be sexually assaulted. Nor do their sons or mothers or brother experience death by withheld or incompetent medical care. I don't suppose if they get stopped for a DUI or traffic problem or unpaid traffic tickets or back child support, that they are personally sent to the jail. Otherwise, surely these would seem very bad problems indeed to them.
Although blogs come in all sorts and flavors, we bloggers generally have one thing in common ... we love words. I fell in love with words when I realize that words could transport me through time and space, explore the perspectives of people with very different experiences than my own, and leave me dancing with joy through conversation with someone whose journey shed light on my own.
But I experienced something so sweet that I find even in my own head I can't find adequate words to describe the amazing grace that poured into my life today.
Maybe I should start by saying that, though I know and love many delightful women, I'm often not so crazy about women as a group. From bullying teenage girls to destructively competitive women in the workplace, through inept women who would use our shared gender to excuse their own thorny behaviors and certain church ladies who suck joy form the simplest gatherings, I have been injured by many women. Not all women behave this way, of course, but for too many competition is more dearly held than collaboration. (I do know, men do their own crumby stuff, but that is their own journey.)
I wonder: why do women -- mothers and daughters and sisters and girl-friends and colleagues -- with such great capacity to building joyous, supportive relationships, too often opt for catty, callous and mean?
So today was especially sweet. I spent nearly all day with only women. This gather was really too delightful to express clearly. These women are both broken and incredibly strong, actually women made strong by the challenges they have faced and the choices they make in the wake of challenges. These are generous women who share their experience, hope and faith with great tenderness and searing personal honesty. They support one another; challenge one another to take important and necessary risks with hope and perseverance. They speak truth ever so gently. They shine light into darkness. They encourage and cheer, and rejoice in each other's victories. They cry tears of sorrow and healing and joy. They laugh and tease and teach. They listen and love and pray and hug ... and the greatest of these is indeed love.
Sisters of heart and choice and faith, thank you for wrapping me in love and hope and sweet dreams of possibilities, and for persistently praying practical encouragement to convert dreams to plans.
Truly love drives out fear.
(Why do we have jails and prisons? I suppose many people never really think about this very seriously and more would probably answer "to keep us safe".
But is what we are doing making us any safer? Statistics clearly show that crime rates have not dropped as incarcerations have accelerated. I'd love to see the Freakonomics guys* aim some of their research to expose the increase in community poverty as incarcerations rates rise. Families whose children often encounter the "gateway" to incarceration through small infractions inflated by poverty, low-literacy and poor or inaccurate understanding of how to handle low-level legal problems can too often graduate to more family fracturing through financial loss, fear and the multitude of steps needed to overcome each misstep.
But how do we actually expect jails and prisons to work? Do we expect people to come out with new positive attitudes about the potential for success by following the straight and narrow road? Do we expect people to come out with more wisdom and better skills for being contributing members of society? Do communities respond with hate or indifference or by mentoring a returning person as they readjust to a life that has quite literally passed them by? Do churches do a better job than our government, culture or the too small and narrow pockets of social service networks?
Or do we just want them to all die? I know that sound harsh, but frankly, this seems to be the attitude of so many people which is puzzling, since the current numbers indicate that one in four people have been arrested at some time. Of course, arrest does not always lead to incarcerations, but each comes with the potential to do so. So why are we so complaisant, at least until it is one of "our own" who encounters the challenges?
In history, including but not exclusively Biblical history, incarceration was literally a "last resort" when folks repeatedly committed such dangerous acts that long-term incarceration or death was deemed necessary for the protection of society. Today too often it is seen as inevitable by folks on both sidelines -- low grade offenders and enforcement folks. When smaller communities had more input into the justice system more wayward folks were redirected back into contributing positions in society rather than catapulted into journeys that too often make "baby badies" into hardened, determined men and women with little or nothing to lose.
Today, not all who are incarcerated even come to trail, but can languish for weeks or months or even years as prosecutors work to "make the case." Some are never tried -- if they were determined in pretrial to have not been the guilty party, or that while they were not completely cleared there was ultimately inadequate proof to bring to trial. Some plead out and there is increasing evidence that this can occur when they are bullied by threats of being charged with decades or life sentences versus a few years if they "confess" and accept a plea which reduces the cost to the prosecutor's office but may not actually advance the cause of justice....if indeed their crimes are worthy of a decades to life punishment, is it justice to victims or safe to the community for them to "get off" with short sentences? Some are found guilty, but when it has taken so long that "time served" is the outcome -- isn't it odd that their sentence is "just" by accident. And what consideration is given if the time they served was actually too long and the financial costs (legal fees, lost wages, costs to families, trauma to children, etc) were unreasonable in light of the final judgement.
Some are found guilty and were sent to "do time" in a hodgepodge of ways. In some states low-grade felony time is served in the local jail if the sentence is less than 6 months; in other states it runs to two years. For example if the limit is 12 months you will find a disproportionate number of sentences for 11 months 29 days which keeps folks in the local jail. If local jail overcrowding becomes an issue I suspect the disproportion begins to run to 12 months 1 day. This also makes a huge difference in the likelihood of rehabilitation. Being in jail MAY mean being closer to supportive family and church family and being released into a more familiar environment. But being in prison MAY mean better access to GED classes, job-training, parenting classes, life skills classes and designed release programs with some better track record of lower recividism.
Sentences can run consecutively (so five 20 years sentences become 100 years) or concurrently (thel five sentences are completed on the same day 20 years hence). I'd love to talk to retired judges to understand how well such things are considered by the judiciary and how careful judges are in considering the bigger picture relating to justice; for too often a less than five year jail sentence leaves offenders with mental health, medical, family and financial brokenness that results in homelessness, recidivism, early death and/or a long-term, constant drain on public resources.
Is this really the outcome that serves the victims, the communities or society at large?.Are we not ALL better served if they are welcomed and even coached back in to lives of productive living, working, paying their way (and paying taxes), raising healthier kids rescued from the foster care system, contributors to their families, communities and society?
*Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Other than a sociopath, no one wants her child involved in the legal system. In fact, most parents spend a lot of thought and energy into considering how to keep our children from being victims of crime from the time we worry about kidnappings and child molesters through driver's licenses, popular music concerts and dating on college campuses. And no one is happy when that child engages in behaviors that are illegal.
But how many folks say, "Someday I hope my child grows up to be a Correction Officer or a Prison Chaplin or a Warden"? I know third and forth generation military families, law enforcement families, firefighter families, teachers' families who consider their honorable public service worth the challenges. But not so much for Correctional Officers laboring in dangerous and often unpleasant and hostile environments requiring extraordinary vigilance to keep each other, themselves and the incarcerated folks safe in persistently difficult situations. The near constant anxiety, frequent pressure to act unethically, low salaries, 24-7 scheduling, growing overcrowding, constant exposure to angry, sad, fearful, hopeless folks and pernicious danger leads to physical illness, fractured families and too often overwhelming sorrow.
Even if only 10% of the incarcerated population has embraced violent and outrageous behaviors, this is a losing situation for all folks inside the walls. And the less hope there is for a better tomorrow, the worse the odds get as more incarcerated people are subject to the unwanted attention of the worst offenders. The poorer are working conditions the harder it becomes to attract high-functioning, able and ethical prison staff which leads to staffing shortages which makes facilities more dangerous than ever.
Then we have the people at the top of the chain of command, the elected officials who either believe there are no better ways than what we currently have or the ones who feed the fears of their electorate with promises of "getting tougher" even as crime rates do not improve and folks who complete their sentences or are released on parole re-offend in ever higher percentages while crime rates fail to drop and even rise and as whole communities continue to flounder.
We are incarcerating AND failing to rehabilitate such a stunning portion of our overall population that from a purely financial point of view this is a growing disaster. When looked at from a humanitarian perspective is it unconscionable...and unparalleled in the world.
Rikers Island has been found to be place of appalling abuse, filth, waste, danger, public health concerns and inconceivable working conditions that are the entrenched norm have required federal court intervention. It is so horrible there is now consensus that "something must be done as fast as possible" and they think they may be able to close it down in 10 years (a reduction from the Mayor's earlier "hope" they could do it in 20 years) if they can reduce the incarcerated population from the current 10,000 to 5,000 and raise $1.39 BILLION dollars (which will be estimated to save $1.4 million per year) .*
Praying is essential, but this much foster the following through of churches and their members in advocating, educating and working to reduce the number of children lost, improve conditions of incarceration and step in to mentor those who have completed their time of incarceration and long to return to or to become contributing members in their families and communities.
I happened to walk past the TV as a 48 Hours episode was ending. Because of my increased awareness of the extreme differences in sentencing I took note of something I had not really listened to before. Two folks in different states were dead as the result of property crimes gone wrong (a home invasion robbery and a car jacking) but the sentences in one instance were 25 and 30 years and the other was 5 and 7 years though each occurred during the commission of a crime. Was one person more likable than the other? Better or less well educated? More or less valued by their families?
Several things contribute to an increasingly irrational and frightening trend in sentences that tend to make people trust the legal system less because it is experienced as increasingly capricious and inexplicable.
1. Who arrests you matters. The same offense investigated and charged at the local level could have sentencing guidelines that vary by two to three times. For people who have been caught in the pornography marketers web come ons ignorance can be costly: if a website or Craig's list contact tells you that what they are selling is "within legal limits" it is not necessarily true and EACH frame of a video clip is a separate charge at the federal level. At this time federal offenders are receiving higher sentences for e-crimes than local folks are getting for who actually have had contact with a child. Wives who have trusted husbands to handle family finances can be charged if funds from an illegal activity (whether that is fraud or a drug connection) if "dirty money" has been deposited in a joint account they used to pay household bills. This is often done to give prosecutors leverage to get a spouse to "flip" even when there is no evidence that the spouse has anything to "sell". This can result in a savvy co-conspirator negotiating a lighter sentence than the clueless mom watching her kids being sent into foster care.
2. How the offense is calculated matters. If a person burglarizes your house while you are away (purely a property crime) and you are a person of influence in your community and are deeply upset, the prosecutor may add things like "possession of burglary tools" and "trespassing" to the charges in order placate someone they perceive as "important" or to leverage the process or to use plea bargaining to polish their conviction record. A less attractive offender may also evoke a harsher response such as someone who is poor, homeless, fresh out of foster care or unemployed. This in turn confuses people who learn that when their personal burglar was sentenced it was for a much lower time even though they had learned it was a multiple offender and so a sense of unequal justice is born in both in the victim and in the family and friends of the offender. Most of the "extra" charges were originally enacted to allow folks to face charges if apprehended BEFORE actually breaking into a home, but are now used in a destructive game stacked in favor of those with resources for attorneys, bail, fines, rehab, classes and restitution.
3. Who you are matters. We want to believe this on one hand but every day attorneys advertise to assure us that we dare not speak with an insurance company or handle a traffic ticket without their help. A "simple" charge with a single hearing and dismissal can easily run up a $5,000 legal bill. For a serious crime where professional help in running down records and witnesses can easily run to six figures quickly. So, until we have National Legal Care, folks who have the money go to driving class or drug court have a very different experience than people without who sit in jail because they can't even make bail. It feels like the correlation between the number of attorneys in the halls of state houses and Congress may be affecting how important clarity in legal statues, regulations, rules et al is to those who make the laws.
4. Police officers and deputies have little if any input in what happens at the prosecutor's office. They may see a child as needing to be removed from a parent to another family member for a time because they know the people and community involved. But the prosecutor may see someone whose parent is irritating or whose legal aid advocate is not meeting deadlines. The prosecutor's perspective prevails. Additionally I believe many in the proprietorial and judicial systems prefer to ignore the part they are playing in the growing problems; I'm pretty sure that if their college student is picked up DUI a very small number ever spend the weekend in jail as a result. Recently, amid a growing scandal of assaults of both COs and accused offenders/low level offenders by unsegregated violent offenders awaiting trial or transport, increasing lawsuits for unsafe conditions for jail staff and those incarcerated, and terrifyingly inadequate medical care resulting in severe injuries and deaths of people being held at the jail (80%+ have not been adjudicated but neither they nor their families can pay bail, or they have been convicted of misdemeanors but are not able to come up with the cash to pay court costs or fees or fines. This can result in children being added to an already overcrowded foster care system.) Yet one of our local judges was quoted as saying, "We even have to adjust our schedules when there are not guards available to transport prisoners." If he walked across the street he might realize this is a much bigger problem than he seems to perceive. Earlier this month an already dangerously understaffed jail experienced a 25-person "outage" making conditions even more than usually dangerous. Of course, those incarcerated there are not able to call in for a mental health day. And even when a citizen is found innocent they are often have no voice when they seek to advocate for reforms.
Every year members of governmental agencies, in state Houses and Senate halls, in our national's Congress people seeking political power feed the nonsensical notion that if we make a thing illegal it stops happening. As a result new laws are passed without thoughtful consideration of how other laws are affected, if other laws should be amended or recodified or rescinded and a change in federal law can take a long time to seep down to Two Egg, Florida. Personally I'd like to find candidates who promise to write no new laws, to only clarify, repair and recodify the millions of rules, regulations, laws, court case precedents and rulings to attempt to make the law possible to obey.
Mens rea, the requirement that there is intent to harm, is too often being replace with the "make an example and other people won't do this." But with the millions of rules (just think of the tax code with books of statues, Revenue Proclamations trying to clarify the law, Letter Rulings trying to address whether or not a particular course of action might or might not be illegal/actionable and the Tax Courts, the U.S. Courts of Federal Claims, District Courts and Bankruptcy Courts and the U.S. Courts of Appeals findings and rulings. And that is JUST the federal tax code. Now add the tax rules, laws and regulations in 50 states and the District of Columbia) it is frustrating for citizens. People often are so worried about "getting into trouble" knowingly pay higher taxes than the law provides, or lacking the financial resources to defend themselves, allow a disallowed deduction to stand because it is too expensive to fight what may be only a poorly trained examiner. While even trained legal professionals have trouble giving a clear response when a question is asked (have you ever emailed the IRS with a question?) people at all levels of literacy and education are held accountable for errors of both omission and commission.
So we are coming far too close to a nation where if anyone looks hard enough at anyone else they can probably find a mistake and if the person looking has "clout" and person being looked at does not, they are truly in a mess.
I suggest we ask our representatives and senators regularly what they have recodified or rescinded recently in the interest of moving toward a more just society.
People who have been affected by crime and the families of crime victims are affected. They often report feeling confused, vulnerable, afraid and frustrated. For family members surviving homicide victims, the aftermath can be years in the healing as investigation, which can include surviving loved ones being considered as possible suspects, is rarely swift; months and even years can pass getting to trial and more years of appeals and parole boards. If the offender is also a family member, which is statistically not rare, there are even more circles of pain involved, more victims to process and hard work to recover physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially plus the struggle to avoid damage pouring into another generation.
Churches do pretty well with weddings, babies, failing health like surgery or hospice patients, and funerals. Issues related to family care following a violent death, divorce, incarceration, financial collapse, long-term illness, mental illness and the like, not so much. Too often when we don't know what to say we stay away. Really there is not a lot that can be said, but there a deep need to have someone listen, to be heard. We need someone to assure us that we are still acceptable, still valued, despite "unspeakable" challenges.
Larger police departments now hire someone to liaison with families of homicide victims and surviving victims of crime, but during the investigation, especially where family members wait to be cleared of suspicion, there is a fine line about what to share and with whom. This leaves victims and families frustrated and increasingly anxious, often while dealing with significant financial challenges within shattered families. If an offender is identified, goes to trail and pleads or is found guilty, there are increasing opportunities for victim impact statements as part of the sentencing process. But for folks whose case is never heard, there are extra barriers to moving forward.
All states have funds available for victims of crimes and survivors of homicide victims. You can check yours out by "googling " 'victim compensation and your state). You will be doubly glad that you are not a victim of crime because there are many barriers to receiving any help. Many non-profit service providers apply for funds (and this seems more emphasized on my state's website than are direct to victim's help, but even established service providers struggle to get funding to them in a timely manner so their staff and utilities can be paid.) Judges who think they are being kind to forgo court costs and fees are not being kind to low-income families in desperate need of victim compensation funds and services.
For victims of crime in my state (once many barriers are overcome) a maximum benefit of $25,000 may be awarded on eligible claims and may not exceed:
Often victims express a desire to speak with a convicted offender, but this is rarely facilitated even though it is often both healing for victims and a step towards an offender understanding more clearly the cost to people he or she has never even met. This is a revelation to too many offenders whose upbringing offered little opportunity learn empathy. It is an essential part of a successful return to a productive life in communities.
We need to remember that 95% of people who are incarcerated today will eventually return to their communities. We all benefit if they return with the skills needed to rebuild their family relationships, function as able employees, and generally strive to benefit rather than damage their community. Victims most of all benefit having their loss respected within the legal system.
We have indeed become the incarceration nation. While our crime rate is similar to Canada's we incarcerate 30 times more people. So, unless you believe it takes 30 Americans to commit each wrong that only one Canadian can commit, there has to be something seriously wrong south of our northern border.
The language has changed over the years from penitentiaries (a place of penitence where people should contemplate the error of their ways so that they might return to their homes convinced of the wisdom of staying on the straight way) and reformatories (that people might find an improved or reformed attitude) to the more modern correctional facility. Although in many other nations people often do return to their communities never to reoffend, our recidivism rate is very high between 60 and 76%* (while Australia, Singapore, and Norway are at 20% with lower crime rates than the United States). Those are strikingly diverse cultures yet the low recidivism rate in each is paying off in less crime.
And of course crime does not happen in a vacuum: the incarcerated are far from the only folks caught in this nightmare. Let's start with the people who have been victims of crime or survivors of crime, have themselves been harmed as are their families who love them. To know a child in ones own family has been removed from a violent, abusive home wounds those who love both the child and the abuser. Some one may step forward to house and tend the wounded child. Other children are dropped into a broken governmental foster care system. The financial structure of victims of crime are damaged and health can be compromised for a lifetime or life can be lost at the time of the crime or in the aftermath. Members of law enforcement and the judicial system that deal with both victims and offenders then take their broken hearts home to their families and, if not well tended, those broken hearts break more hearts. Then we have the offender who has changed the course of his or her life with one more bad decision or impulsive action or stunning selfishness. Which leads to a whole new set of victims in the families and loved ones of the criminal sinner with the backlash here being as bad as for the victim of the crime as attorneys and commissaries and travel costs eat up funds better used for education and better food and safer housing for the children and aging parents dealing with the loss of a father or a mother or a son or a daughter. When the offender returns after completing their sentence their earning capacity is drastically diminished and the reality of life after release is full of challenges that expand exponentially for each year of incarceration.
Men and women who HAVE PAID their "debt" to society regarding their most public sin must continue to pay every day because people who are NOT without sin are so happy to caste stones rather than restore lives and communities. An estimated 44,000 laws, regulations and rules apply uniquely to people who are no longer incarcerated or under the jurisdiction of our penal system, making the rest of their lives a land mine. Additionally health problems which are attributed to or exacerbated by incarceration are lifelong burdens for many.
It is estimated that one in 4 people in the United States have been arrested at some time in their lives. With the advent of internet "background checks" not only these people but people inaccurately identified as these people are subject to discrimination in housing, jobs, and protections afforded other citizens and legal aliens by our government.
So the current system heaps new injury on victims of crime, extorts a stunning emotional costs of those professionals charged with dealing with victims, identifying the offender and meeting out the punishment on behalf of society, is highly unsuccessful at invoking penitence, reformation or correction, inflicts consequences on the families of the incarcerated who have themselves committed no crime, increased the cost of government and reducing the taxes that might be paid by a post-incarcerated, restored individual and mortgaged the future of a generation because we can't seem to do much more than turn a blind eye or or wring our hands.
Lord have Mercy
Christ have Mercy
Lord have Mercy upon us all. AMEN
*federal versus state prison rates
I must have been in grade school when I stood in my backyard staring into a bucket of water so I could safely see a partial eclipse. It was exciting to see something that movies at the time depicted as having been used to manipulate primitive peoples by folks who had science on their side.
But now I must admit that even before the amazing event I'm pretty burned out on the daily update on eclipse glasses availability at locations that never seems to be in my part of the county anyway. Yes. yes. I still think it interesting and educational, but I got a giggle by a scholarly article warning solemnly that children, especially small children, might find all the hype has not prepared them to stand quietly for the less than two minutes of the total eclipse (at about
1:08 p.m.), much less the slow pace of the full eclipse experience which runs from 11:40 a.m. to 2:36 p.m.
And I admit I hope there is not any news from the other continents today since I doubt there will be much time for coverage. You see, this eclipse is an almost wholly North American, in fact an almost wholly United States of America mainland event.* I'm hearing it will be an economic success for many "in the path".
But all this leads me to think about other issues. A solar eclipse is not about the sun doing anything, but rather about a smaller orb getting between the sun's light and warmth and those of us that rely on that light and warmth. And I am amazed by how often I allow something small to get between me and something more important in the larger scheme of things.
So today I hope we all heed the warnings and come away with no vision damage, make a memory of folks being kind to one another as they share a common and rare experience, and experience people driving with care!
Creator of this World, this Universe, thank you for this amazing Earth and solar system with all its delightful features and our capacity to enjoy and share and learn together. AMEN
* South America from San Juan to Buenos Ares in Argentina gets their total eclipse on July 2, 2018. Do you think our news community will cover that?
I've been looking for a Bible study/small group program -- whatever the current term is -- to help my home congregation begin thinking more deeply and acting more intentionally about the condition of our "legal system". I just can't call it a justice system when what we have currently is so thoroughly lacking in both justice and common sense. What is it about humans! When we try a solution to a problem, if it does not work, we so consistently, stubbornly demand that we do more of the same faster, rather than stepping back to consider what part may be working or how to make adjustments. I suppose it is asking too much to expect the world to actually put on the brakes and change directions when they are barreling toward a cliff at warp speed.
But just as Christians stepped forward to power the underground railroad in the 1850s, just as church leaders have stepped up in the past to bring focus and propose solutions to horrors from sweat shops to debtor's prisons, just as Christians bring education, health services and clean water to some of the poorest children in our world today, so you and I as Christians are called to think about these issues, inform ourselves about the status quo, speak out and work to make changes that might at least slow the bleeding.
The "reforms" of the 1980s with longer sentences for non-violent crimes and "three strikes you'e out" that have both been implemented (in ways never envisioned by legislatures responding to fear driven constituency) with demonic glee by people who are benefiting financially and political, and have brought a demonstrated increase in crime as families and communities have been devastated financially and spiritually, family connections have been damaged, and communities broken; with a stunning percentage of young people coming out of foster care into incarceration without reformation. It is distressing to think that these young victims of crime find incarceration for non-violent crimes quickley becomes is super highway to a new dangerous "family" behind prison bars.
And frankly, I'm disconcerted that so few church I contact have any prison ministry contact person, committee or, it seems, willingness to heed St. Paul's directive in Hebrews 13:3 Remember prisoners as if you were in prison with them, and people who are mistreated as if you were in their place.
My fellow followers of Christ, there is a lot of mistreatment going on! The price for our negligence is being paid by men and women whose very public sins are not being met with punishment that fits the crime, victims who are not receiving restitution, men and women who work in prisons are suffering, law enforcement and court personnel are discouraged, communities are finding released prisoners have NOT been prepared to reenter society. In other words, the legal system is making things MORE dangerous rather than fulfilling its prime directive: serving to protect and encourage all members of society to have faith in their capacity to make this a better world.
Won't you stick a note on your bathroom mirror or above your TV, or make a bookmark or discuss this with your accountability partner so that you remember to pray daily this week, to pray with focus and an open heart about those affected by crime, punishment and its ever-outwardly expanding circles of pain, wasted lives and broken hearts. Remember to pray for those working in the "white fields" called prison ministry, sharing the love and healing power of Christ with the incarcerated and their families, with law enforcement and prison workers, with survivors of crime. Remember to pray for an open heart that you might hear what God is asking of you in sharing the good news with all his beloved children in all places and at all times.
King of Kings and Lord of Lords, hear the most tender prayers of our hearts. AMEN
"white fields" refers to John 4:35
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