Recently, I presided over a liturgy that instead of using the word "Kingdom" used the word "Kin-dom." The idea being that the Kingdom of God is one in which we are all kin.
Additionally, I am attending, right now, Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington DC. ( #ead2015 ). At EAD, we are focusing on bringing an end to mass incarceration through smarter sentencing and through the elimination of family detention of migrant families. At one of the workshops I attended, the stopped calling incarcerated people "offenders" or "criminals" and called them "brother, sister, returning citizen." Our kin.
There is no denying that the vast majority of those imprisoned will be returning to their home towns. What do we do when they return? Are they set up to succeed? Are they shamed? Can they get fair housing? Food? Do they have state ID's? So many questions! How will we create an environment where 75% recidivism rate is not the norm. By claiming our incarcerated brothers and sisters as our kin.
And most egregious of all, our marginalized kin are suffering. People of color, LGBTQIA-etc., learning disabled, mental health impacted are all incarcerated at higher rates than those who present as heteronormative, cisgender, white, traditional learners. So instead of creating new ways to reach the nontraditional or instead of creating sane addiction treatment centers or instead of creating mental health beds or instead of raising up the situation of those impoverished, we criminalize them all. And lock them up. And the biggest indicator of incarceration is previous incarceration. Creating a vicious cycle.
31.1% of those incarcerated in the state of Washington's adult prison system are for non-violent offenses (drugs and property crimes-things like motor vehicle theft). Is our best answer incarcerating addicts or treating them? Is our best answer treating them harshly or humanely?
In Norway, the prison system seems like camp compared to the US system. And their recidivism rate is so much lower. We use solitary confinement to induce madness and create environments where rehabilitation is not possible. I personally know a young man who has been kept in solitary for the crime of being gang affiliated before he entered prison. He actually did nothing.
You will open blind eyes so they will see again.
You will lead prisoners, blinking, out from caverns of captivity,
from cells pitch black with despair. (Isaiah 42:7, The Voice)
Throwing away people who are different is not the call of people of compassion, love, and justice. Creating programs that rehabilitate, rejuvenate, and reinvigorate is. And that includes our government programs. It is time to end mandatory minimums. It is time to end the practice of isolation. It is time to end incarceration of those in poverty. It is time to end incarcerating bodies who are different. Incarceration should be a last case alternative, not the first solution. It should be the call of everyone of us. If we are only concerned with our pocketbook, it is less taxes. If we are concerned for doing the compassionate and just thing, then we must proclaim "good news to the poor and freedom for the prisoners." (Luke 4:18). Oh, and two more things...sight to the blind and letting the oppressed free.
Focusing on "sight to the blind," for a minute, isn't that we do when we teach one another the horrors of a system that expects to incarcerate1 in 3 African American men. We are blind to the institutionalized racism and oppression of marginalized groups that occurs. We must open our eyes!
We need to become a society of second chances! After all, when Jesus was on the cross with the two terrorists, the Kin-dom of God was not closed to them, but another chance was given. When Jesus asked Peter, "Do you love me," two more chances were given. When the Prodigal son returned home, another chance was given. Most religions and ideologies allow for multiple chances. But it takes community to meet at the cross, become love to one another, and to be restored to society. It is not done alone. (If you want to see some of the work I am doing, you can visit my other blog at the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition.)
"It's going to take a collection of all of us to change what is in our communities.
What will you do?" (Branden Wellington, poet)