They are saying Indiana will have a very cold winter, but with little snow. Coming from the most northern reaches of Illinois, just south of the Wisconsin line, we always had deep snow that obliterated landmarks, making it hard to even find your way.
I just got a call from a man named Neal. He lives in Greenwood and was recently released from incarceration. He is eager to get a job, and since I didn’t know if we have a employer in Greenwood, I sent messages to some of our 2nd Chance folks and hopefully, we’ll find someone who will be interested in interviewing him. If he is as smart and nice as he was with me on the phone, maybe he has a shot.
The conversation with Neal made me think of a book by Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking. She ministered to people on death row and one of her famous quotes was “people are more than the worst thing they’ve done in their lives.” She saw the good in those who had committed the most terrible deeds.
But most people in prison are not lifers, most are not dangerous, and as Sister would say, all are far more than the worst thing they have done. I can tell you from experience, that there is more hope, goodness, optimism, and energy in most reentrants than they will be given the opportunity to use. They want to pour all that into a new life and the lives of their children and families. They want to work, pay their way, stay clean, and get along. They don’t all make it, but a lot of them can with just a realistic amount of help.
It’s like you’ve been flat on your back in a hospital bed for 12 years and then the doctor tells you to stand up, get dressed, and leave. Do you even have clothes? Do you still have a driver’s license? A car? When you tell an interviewer your health status, could you get a job? Has your family forgotten you? Are you welcome? Where else can you live? How much money do you owe? How will you live? (And that’s someone without the stigma of a criminal record.)
Prison is like snow. It makes things disappear and you can lose your way. The person has been out of sight and out of mind. The family has operated without him and maybe forgets him. When he gets out, many employers won’t interview him and most landlords won’t rent to him. No wonder recidivism is over 65%. Without changes in the way we handle reentrants, we are encouraging crime and recidivism, as we let them shiver in the cold forever, forgetting them entirely, until the next time they show up in court.
As a society, we have given the deep freeze to people coming out of incarceration for as long as I can remember. Like Christ, who made a corrupt tax collector an apostle, we are to look for the better part of people who are so much more than the worst things they have done. In Illinois, without fail, spring melted the snow and new growth started to beautify the landscape again. A warmer climate can do that for people’s lives as well.
Praying for Neal,