Wednesday, September 2, 2009
When did you we see you in prison and visit you?
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.
Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Lauretta got me started doing prison ministry when I was going to Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion, NY.
Since we both have left that church I have continued visiting and writing the prisoner whom I had been visiting and writing to.
Now I like to think I am doing this as part of the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Prison Ministry.
The United States incarcerates more offenders per capita that any nation in the world. It is getting so expensive that states like California and New York are having to discharge prisoners because taxpayers can no longer afford to house them. It costs about $35,000 a year to keep a person in prison. They could have been sent to an Ivy League Private College for that.
Of course the prison industry employs working class people in rural communities and keeps politicians in office for "bringing home the bacon".
I was observing the guards during my visit today. They are mostly middle aged white guys watching younger black and Hispanic guys. It's like the old plantation days when the whites supervised and economically benefited from the servitude of the blacks.
The prisoner I visit is a white guy in his early 30s who is clearly the minority in this prison doing 6 years for a crime of sexual assault, his first offense, and when he is released he will be a registered second level sex offender and will be heavily stigmatized as a threat to his community which he is not.
Our criminal justice system in the United States is seriously dysfunctional and extremely expensive and benefits primarily the middle class who provide the attorneys, judges, parole officers, correction officers, etc who job it is to "work the system" of mostly poor nonviolent people who society has significantly marginalized to begin with and then when they transgress incarcerate them.
There are a number of moral and ethical issues raised by the way we operate our criminal justice system in the United States. One of the values of Unitarian Universalism is "justice, equity, and compassion" in human relations. I don't see much of this in our criminal justice system which is primarily adversarial and retributive.
There are better ways of doing criminal justice such as restorative justice.
I have questioned myself many times on why I have responded albeit reluctantly to Lauretta's request to visit a fellow UU in prison. I have no clear answer other than I feel deep down in my heart that I owe it to him and if I can help as one UU to another I am willing to do what I can.
I go to see the prisoner once per month and write him a couple times a month and send him books and articles and food periodically.
I do it on our behalf, on the behalf of us Unitarian Universalists. I want to feel I am representing and living out a faith that cares about human dignity, and justice, and is willing to facilitate human potential.
I can say, Well, Lord, I went once per month and the last time was August 28, 2009. I will go again in September. Okay?
And I can hear the King say to me, "David, you've been a real idiot, and made plenty of lousy mistakes in your life, but hey, I mean, did you visit some prisoners so I guess you're not as big a doofus as you think you are."
Being a Unitarian Universalist, a real one, not just one in name only, requires the practice of corporal works of mercy, you feeling me?
I would love to hear what you do to live out your Unitarian Universalist faith. I would like you to brag about what you do to contribute to more justice, equity, and compassion in the world. Leave us a comment.