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March 06, 2009

Eleven year old charged as an adult

Brown_320 Would you put this 11 year old in prison for the rest of his life?

Prosecutors in Pennsylvania have charged an 11-year-old boy as an adult for murdering his father's girlfriend. They said that they intend to ask that he be imprisoned for the rest of his life under Pennsylvania's Juvenile Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) statute. Let me be clear: what the boy did is awful, and there should be consequences for it. But those consequences should include reforming his moral compass, rather than writing him off as unsalvageable. Putting him in an adult prison for the rest of his life is essentially denying the young boy the possibility of redemption and rehabilitation.

It surprises most people to realize that in forty-two states and under federal law, a child under 18 who commits a serious crime is classified as an adult for prosecution and punishment. In some states, children as young as ten are transformed instantly into adults for criminal justice purposes. Remember, these children are too young to buy cigarettes and alcohol, too young to shave, often too young to drive. Many of these kids still have stuffed animals on their beds. Yet, they are tried as adults, and if convicted, they are sent to adult prison, often for life without any possibility of parole.

There are currently at least 2,225 people incarcerated in the United States who are imprisoned for the rest of their lives for crimes they committed as children. These are not "super-predators" with long records of vicious crimes. In fact, an estimated 59 percent of these youngsters received the sentence for their first-ever criminal conviction.

The crime this boy committed was horrible. He hid a shotgun under a blanket and calmly walked downstairs and shot his father's girlfriend in the back of her head. This is a shocking crime. But it was also his first run-in with the law. Despite his clean record, state law requires that he be charged as an adult. And the District Attorney said he expects the boy to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Continue reading "Eleven year old charged as an adult" »

March 05, 2009

Daily roundup

Like Father, Like Son

Franklin_Graham An opinion column in the New York Times by Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham has surprised many human rights and religious liberty advocates in the United States and around the world.  Responding to a then-pending arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir (the warrant has since been issued), Graham intimates that for the sake of peace in the short-term, he would prefer to have Bashir remain in power in the war-ravished African nation.

"I want to see justice served, but my desire for peace in Sudan is stronger," says Graham.  "Mr. Bashir, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity, is hardly an ideal peacemaker. But given all the warring factions in Sudan, there is no guarantee that his replacement would be better."

Graham goes on to say that despite his faults, Bashir has displayed a willingness to cooperate--even allowing for Samaritan's Purse to broadcast Christian television programming for Christmas and Easter. He suggests the United Nations Security Council postpone any proceedings for a year, thus allowing the peace process to be completed.

Graham's approach to the issue, while no doubt sincere, strikes me as both short-sighted and naïve. Bashir's continuing leadership will only serve to embolden Janjaweed militias intent on genocide. And the president's accommodation of Graham regarding holiday broadcasting does not discount the fact that Bashir has proven himself untrustworthy throughout the conflicts in South Sudan and Darfur.

Continue reading "Like Father, Like Son" »

March 04, 2009

Crisis + Corrections = Opportunity?

In light of California's budget crunch, the Washington Post reminded us here and here that crisis can mean, well, opportunity. Though California's predicament is the most severe, it is by no means an isolated one.

To address ubiquitous budget problems, strapped states are now looking to save money through their prison systems. Indeed, corrections budgets, usually quite large, are being considered by several states for cuts. This move is not always a politically easy task, as no one when pressed is willing to sacrifice public safety by hastily chopping corrections budgets.

So what if we can save money and make our communities safer?

As Stateline.org suggests, the economic crisis is providing new political momentum to bring innovative reforms to the table that can go a long way in reducing recidivism--and keeping expensive prison beds only for people who truly need to sleep in them.

Lest the terms "cost savings" and "public safety" become sterile, let's not forget that public safety means transformed lives--individuals who are empowered to avoid the revolving door of crime and begin contributing to their communities. In the interest of not only saving money but also helping offenders turn their lives around, Justice Fellowship is one of many organizations working with policymakers in the states to make the most of this crisis-induced opportunity.

To learn more about promising criminal justice reforms, read my colleague Karen Williams's recent piece in Prison Fellowship's Inside/Out Magazine and Pat Nolan's feature at Bacon's Rebellion.

March 03, 2009

Daily roundup

A Massacre of Liberty

Hoye022009 Reverend Walter Hoye was recently sentenced to thirty days in jail. Hoye didn't beat anyone, didn't break in or destroy anything, didn't threaten anyone. His crime was that he was peacefully protesting abortion within 60 feet of an abortion facility. He was the latest person who landed in jail due to a bad law. 

The abortion lobby has some mighty powerful supporters because they managed to get one type of political protest made unlawful. In 1994, the Supreme Court made peaceful protest outside of abortion clinics illegal. See also herehere, and here.  

Before abortion promoters start squawking at me, there are already perfectly good laws already in place to be used to prosecute anyone who commits a destructive act like desecration of property or other acts of mayhem. This is just another instance of the dwindling freedom of some American citizens, implemented by other American citizens. It is a real massacre of liberty.

(Image courtesy of ProLifeBlogs.com)

February 26, 2009

And now for these messages...

Masso Despite high telephone costs and frustrating visitation rules, people are finding creative ways to express their love to family members in prison. Radio call-in shows like Boston's Con Salsa! and California's Art Laboe Connection regularly broadcast messages to inmates from their spouses, parents, and children. 

Delivering these words of love and encouragement to the men and women listening behind bars strengthens family bonds and helps offenders persevere through the challenges of prison life.

(Image © Josh Reynolds for the AP)

February 25, 2009

Lenten Reflections: Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness, Day One

Rouault Before I left for Rwanda to write As We Forgive, I was reading a book called The Keys to My Neighbor’s House, by journalist Elizabeth Neuffer, who covered the atrocities of both Bosnia and Rwanda. She writes about returning to interview perpetrators. When I read this I couldn’t get it out of my mind: “What’s most chilling when you meet a murderer is that you meet yourself."

That’s not a popular thought, but it is a sobering one. And it’s a perfect place to begin my Lenten reflections.  

There’s this stubborn thing that honest people know. I don’t mean honest in the sense of never telling a lie. I mean the people who are willing to not gloss over their own flaws. I mean the people who are willing to judge themselves not by the measuring rod of others, not even by the measuring rod of the face they present the world, but by the measuring rod of what’s in the heart.

The prophet Jeremiah put his finger on it: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus picked up the theme. He said:

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

If I tell myself that I never could have done what the killers in Rwanda did, that I never could have done this or that, I kid myself. Apart from God’s grace, the murderer I’m interviewing could be me. I don’t want to look into the murderer’s mirror, but I need to. But for God, his eyes are my eyes. And even more chilling, on the days when I think angry thoughts about others, Jesus says that murderer’s heart is my heart.

Sackcloth and ashes: these need to be mine.

A Primer for Lent

As a neophyte to the liturgical calendar, I was honored when my pastor asked me to compose a devotional on Lent. As I researched the observance, I stumbled across some excellent "textbooks" on the subject from those whose eyes have had a little longer to adjust to the bright and rich world of Christian tradition. If you, too, need a primer for Lent, here are a few excellent places to start:

  • "On Keeping a Holy Lent" by Craig Higgins provides a basic history of Lent and casts a vision for how we can make the observance count in a modern context
  • Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson peers into the paradox of Lent: that true fasting can lead to richer feasting
  • "Nothing for Lent" is a 40-day devotional by Prison Fellowship International that connects the sorrow and joy of Lent to the life that can spring forth in prison.

And, if you're interested in my stab on the topic, you can read it here at Common Grounds Online.

Prisons without Bars: ’Reservation Road’

While everyone else has been talking about Revolutionary Road, I took the road less traveled and watched Reservation Road a few weeks ago.

The film came out in 2007, but for the life of me, I can't remember hearing about it. From the director who brought us Hotel Rwanda comes this compelling story of two men--one torn by guilt (Mark Ruffalo) and one torn by grief (Joaquin Phoenix). It is rated R, and some may not have the stomach for it. I'd say it's a sad story, more than a violent one.

But for me, it was an interesting opportunity to take a look at what crime does to both the victim and the offender. In this case, an accident becomes an even greater crime when the driver leaves the scene. There are a few unlikely coincidences in the film, but if you can get past those, the acting is quite good, and the themes--how guilt and bitterness can be their own prisons--are worth mulling.

February 24, 2009

Daily roundup

Charles Dickens, unsung Nostradamus

Mrmerdle While Gina has been reviving Dickens mania over at her blog, I've been plowing through 830+ pages of Little Dorrit. Having finished only the night before last (instead of watching the self-adulation of the Oscars), I, like Gina, am now anxiously awaiting the PBS airing of the new production of this tome.

Dickens could have been writing about our own current events in the final chapters of Little Dorrit. See if these words, written of his fictional character Mr. Merdle (a man who inspired the confidence and investments of others, investments that were sure to pay off, until of course they didn't), don't remind you of a certain Mr. Madoff or Mr. Stanford:

Numbers of men in every profession and trade would be blighted by his insolvency; old people who had been in easy circumstances all their lives would have no place of repentance for their trust in him but the workhouse; legions of women and children would have their whole future desolated by the hand of this mighty scoundrel. Every partaker of his magnificent feasts would be seen to have been a sharer in the plunder of innumerable homes; every servile worshipper of riches who had helped to set him on his pedestal, would have done better to worship the Devil point-blank...For, by that time it was known that the late Mr. Merdle...was simply the greatest Forger and the greatest Thief that ever cheated the gallows.

(Image © BBC One)

February 20, 2009

Shoddy Science Used to Convict

Crimelab A report published by the National Academy of Sciences this week is devastating to the current practices of forensic science that are routinely used to convict across the United States.

It turns out that these methods, including fingerprinting, bite mark identification, and ballistics, are not reliable; practitioners testifying in court have little scientific basis for claiming they are accurate. These "experts" have essentially bootstrapped their hunches into accepted testimony by mutually agreeing that their methods work. And on the basis of their testimony, thousands of people have been convicted and some executed.

In addition, some police labs have had to be closed because they were not even running the tests but merely reporting the results that would help convict the person the police had chosen as the perpetrator. These scandals in crime labs involve hundreds of tainted cases handled by police agencies in Michigan, Texas, and West Virginia, and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At least 10 wrongly convicted men have been exonerated as a result of those laboratory investigations, and the cases of hundreds of other people convicted with the help of those facilities are under review.

For more on wrongful convictions, see Justice Fellowship’s Protecting the Innocent Resource Page.

(Image © Gothamist)

February 19, 2009

Why We Matter

Headline_1196028827 These stats were passed on to me by a colleague, and gleaned from a program which aired on the National Geographic channel called Lockdown: Prison Nation. They are a simple yet sobering reminder of how important the work of Prison Fellowship and Justice Fellowship is and how broken our system has become.

The U.S. has five percent of the world’s population, it has 25% of the world’s inmates.

California operates the third largest penal system in the world, right after China and the United States.

80,000 inmates are kept in isolation nationwide. - A rising suicide rate is linked to the increasing use of solitary confinement. Nearly 70 percent of inmate suicides are in isolation.

25% of all state prison beds are occupied by the mentally ill. Tops in Los Angeles county jail, followed by New York’s Rikers Island.

700,000 inmates are released from prison each year - more than two-thirds of them end up back behind bars within three years.

Assaults on inmates have risen 65% in the past decade.

(Image © EPA/Ulises Rodriguez)

February 18, 2009

’A love supreme’

Johnson family Getting shot in the mouth by a teenage robber might turn some people against their fellow human beings. C. Kenneth Johnson let it inspire him to adopt eight at-risk children and foster 144 more.

And he has done it all as a single man, too busy to look for a mate, he says, figuring that the chances of finding someone willing to help raise so many troubled children would be slim to none.

"When I look back, I can see that it was a lot of work," Johnson told me. "But I didn't think about it that way. I just did it."

While in his care, none of the children was neglected or abused. They did not run away from home, skip school, commit crimes or otherwise disappear through the cracks of a dysfunctional child welfare system.

Nothing bad to report. You might even say that when it comes to adoptions and foster care, no news is good news -- except that if you want to know what it really takes to help children in need, you need to know about people like Johnson.

Go here to read more about this incredible man.

(Image © Courtland Milloy for The Washington Post)

Finding an ally in the community

225px-EricHHolder Our newly appointed Attorney General, Eric Holder, was the founder of a "community oriented" prosecution program during his tenure as attorney for Washington, D.C. His initiative to build allegiance between courts and communities still thrives. This commentary from National Public Radio on this approach to corrections highlights the benefits for community safety and well-being when prosecutors submit themselves as servants of the public. 

As the current director of D.C.'s program says so well, "I used to think that if we just arrested enough people and put enough people in jail, the kinds of problems we've been talking about would eventually go away. But I don't think that way anymore, because now I understand that we cannot arrest our way out of the problem."

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

February 16, 2009

Daily roundup

It Could Not Happen to Everyone

Theresa Flores (Warning: disturbing themes)

It could happen to anyone. Really?

Last night, MSNBC aired "Sex Slaves: The Teen Trade," an exposé on the prevalence of sex trafficking in suburban America. The gist: It's not just poor girls from southeast Asia who find themselves at the mercy of violent pimps who sell girls to 10 guys a night and keep all the money for themselves--it could be your daughter. In the episode, Theresa Flores, a middle-class suburban girl, tells how she was sucked into sexual slavery as a 15-year-old high school student.

Enamored of an upperclassman named "Daniel," Theresa allows him to drive her home one day. On their way, Daniel brings her to his house, where he rapes her. The next day he blackmails her by showing her pictures his cousin has taken of the rape, informing her that she must do whatever he tells her or he will pass the photos around the school. Afraid everyone will find out and that her parents will be angry with her, Theresa agrees to come to Daniel's house that night, where she is gang raped.

This, of course, isn't enough to eliminate the blackmail, and Theresa gets sucked into a two-year nightmare of sexual slavery. And her parents don't have a clue.

After one of the worst nights she can remember, Theresa is finally rescued by the police and brought home in the dead of night. Her parents' response--shock and anger. The next day, her mother won't speak to her. "We didn't have parents we could talk to about these things," recounts Theresa's younger brother.

The family eventually moves away from the town and relocates in another suburban location.

It could happen to anybody, says Theresa, now an advocate and mother. It doesn't matter if your dad makes $100,000, drives nice cars, and provides a decent education for his children. Anyone can get sucked into sex trafficking.

I began to think about that. I grew up in suburbia. Could this have happened to me? I don't think so.

Here's why:

Continue reading "It Could Not Happen to Everyone" »

February 13, 2009

Daily roundup

Is Hip-Hop Wholesome?

Rihanna Chris Brown Last weekend’s Grammy Awards reminded me of Mary Katharine Ham’s article in Townhall magazine last January (no online version) about hip-hop, generally known for its explicitly sexual and violent lyrics. Yet Ham observed that there’s a surprising amount of hip-hop music with wholesome lyrics. She recognizes the popular artists that are releasing chart-topping tunes with positive messages. Some examples are Beyonce’s Single Ladies, which pokes fun at men who are unwilling to make a marriage commitment; If I Were a Boy, a non-male-bashing plea for commitment and understanding; Rihanna’s Umbrella about friendship and fidelity; and Ne-Yo’s Miss Independent, a celebration of hardworking career women. Ham concluded by saying, "Hopefully, the marketplace will reward artists for their positive choices."

I hope so too. However, the news of domestic violence (profanity in comments at link) that caused the last-minute cancellation of hip-hop couple Chris Brown and Rihanna's Grammy performances is a realistic reminder that artists need more than clean lyrics to be wholesome -- more importantly, they need to live good lives to lend truth and credibility to the messages of their positive songs.

(Image © Diamond/WireImage)

Let the circle be unbroken

Flight93memorial Mark Steyn has some sobering thoughts here about the "obtuse"ness of the designers of the Flight 93 memorial.

(Image courtesy of Atlas Shrugs)

February 11, 2009

Daily roundup

A Lament for a Sunburnt Country

Sunburnt country

I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains;
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror--
The wide brown land for me!

--“My Country,” Dorothea Mackellar

Above my mantle hangs a replica of a South Australian pastoral scene. Like cows, kangaroos graze beneath arching white trees. Muted green, the land rests peacefully in its arid beauty, beckoning me home.

I am an Australian, though I don't fully understand what that means. Born 26 years ago in a New South Wales hospital to two American parents, I have dual citizenship in a country I don’t really know, except for seven years of childish impressions. I know a bit of its temperate climate, its brogue-ish tongue, and its endearing people, but I have not lived with it through sorrow.

But when I read the headline “Australia fires toll passes 100,” something within me lurched forward in mournful identity with my second country—with the man who had to plow over burning gum trees as he watched two people incinerate in a car behind him … with another man who stifled his tears as he surveyed the rubble that stood in the place of his farm … with a woman who wailed as she recounted how her house of 25 years crumbled to the ground under its fiery weight.

I have often nourished my memory with the Southern Hemisphere’s sweet heart, its wide-swept plains, aspiring arches, crystalline beaches, and koala-perched eucalyptus trees. I had forgotten that even here evil minds plot their ways, and the land wails for her tarnished beauty.

May she find respite for her scorched lands and justice to preserve her dignity.

(Image © AP)

February 10, 2009

Daily roundup

February 09, 2009

Daily roundup

February 06, 2009

Daily roundup

Don’t Act So Surprised!

It was only a matter of time before abortion would be taken to its frighteningly logical conclusion. But what frightens me even more are comments like this:

"The baby was just treated as a piece of garbage," said Tom Brejcha, president of The Thomas More Society. . . . "People all over the country are just aghast."

We could have used a little more of this "aghast-ness" back in 1973. What do people think abortion is, after all?

February 05, 2009

Daily roundup

Bishop John in the ’Washington Times’

Rucyahana Today, the Washington Times ran a wonderful profile of our very own Bishop John Rucyahana, Chairman of Prison Fellowship Rwanda. One haunting quote:

I was speaking to prisoners at Gitarama. And I said to them, "Close your eyes. Remember yourself hacking people. Remember them lifting up their hands begging for their lives, and you hacking their hands and arms and cutting their necks."

In about 10 minutes, everyone was crying, sobbing. I said, "Open your eyes. That which makes you cry is what God wants you to repent of."

(Image © Kevin Morrow for the Washington Times)

February 03, 2009

Daily roundup

February 02, 2009

’Not For Sale’

Wish you could find the time to curl up and read on a blustery winter afternoon? Looking for something to do during those lengthy work commutes when the weather just isn't blustery enough to stay home? How about something that feeds the soul while engaging the mind?

Each month the great folks over at ChristianAudio.com make available one of their wonderful audio books for free download. January 2009 had members fascinated and encouraged by the Oswald Chambers biography Abandoned To God.

And this month David Batstone's inspiring book on the fight against the modern-day slave trade, Not for Sale, is available. You've probably often heard us at BreakPoint addressing the issue of human trafficking (here, and here, to name a few instances). The issue is real. And disturbing. Mr. Batstone's book provides an excellent overview of just how real it is. So head on over to ChristianAudio.com and download the book for yourself! And while you're at it, check out this review.

Running with Endurance

Running club Being a distance running enthusiast, I deeply appreciate the physical, mental, and emotional refreshment that comes from a long workout. Carol Hill's idea to bring the benefits of exercise to inmates by starting a running club in a women's prison reflects just the kind of creative care and encouragement that contributes to transformed lives.

Hill says, "It's about so much more than running...Running's an opportunity for them to do something they never thought they could do...Some have reconnected with their kids and have made plans to run with them when they get out." As Hill jogs with the women around the prison's newly renovated track, she is helping them prepare to "run with endurance the race marked out for them."

(Image © Keith Myers for the Kansas City Star)

January 30, 2009

Daily roundup

January 20, 2009

Daily roundup

January 16, 2009

The Enforcer

Gary Haugen and the International Justice Mission continue to make waves, landing 12 pages in the New Yorker with an in-depth profile, "The Enforcer," by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Samantha Power. Here's a snapshot (Gary had just returned from Rwanda after witnessing the aftermath of the genocide):

In church, his mind drifted into calculations of how long it would take a machete-wielding gang to wipe out the congregation. Although the Salvation Army, World Vision, and other Christian organizations fed the hungry and sheltered the homeless, no Christian organization that he knew of had heeded the Bible's appeals for justice ("Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out"). He resolved that Christians serving God had to do more than pray for the victims of cruelty; they had to use the law to help rescue them. "This is not a God who offers sympathy, best wishes," he later wrote. "This is a God who wants evildoers brought to account and vulnerable people protected--here and now!"

Revisiting Liberia’s Horrors

Wilson Fallah Our friend Christina Holder reported yesterday in the Washington Times about the horrors many Liberians still relive, five years after the country's 14-year civil war subsided. Just a few weeks ago, she reported on Liberians who sell water for a living.

Christina, a former Prison Fellowship employee who has spent the past six months in Liberia, has seen her fair share of suffering in the faces of those she has grown to love. She writes on her blog:

As we walk through life feeling the brokenness of a fallen world, it sometimes is hard to get a clear view of God's justice. We want our pain redeemed quickly. We want our hurts erased immediately. We want the small ways we feel that we have been wronged to be vindicated in big ways.

(Image © Christina Holder for the Washington Times)

January 15, 2009

Daily roundup

January 14, 2009

Daily roundup

More on forgiveness

Raising Flagg I also have a brand new copy of Catherine’s book. I’ve not yet had time to give it more than a brief skim, but Catherine is a talented writer (of course, regular readers of this site already know that) who brings the stories of people shattered by evil acts of murder and mutilation to life. 

The book, as you know, is about the Rwandan genocide and the healing of a nation. While most of us will never perpetrate acts of genocide, sin cuts through every human heart. Catherine's message is profound: It is only through forgiveness through Jesus Christ, that any kind of reconciliation can occur. 

She says that by extending forgiveness to the wrongdoer, the injured person can help toward the healing of the offender’s sin-sick heart. As one of the victims of malfeasance put it, “Forgiveness is a gift one gives to change the heart of the offender.” 

Catherine presents readers with a larger picture of forgiveness. “Forgiveness is,” she writes, “a social action with social ramifications.” 

This concept might be easier to understand on a smaller scale. In the movie Raising Flagg, Flagg Purdy (Alan Arkin) and his longtime friend Gus Falk (Austin Pendleton) get into a fight over checkers, sheep, and a water well that soon comes to a head in litigation. The whole community becomes embroiled in the affair and chooses sides. Purdy wins the lawsuit—but becomes the community pariah. 

When Purdy realizes that the whole community is against him, he experiences a crisis which leaves him depressed and convinced he’s dying. 

Fortunately, Purdy's stalwart wife, Ada (Barbara Dana), helps in reconciling the two warring friends. Even though Purdy took Gus’s property through a legal technicality, Gus makes the first move toward reconciliation. Eventually, Purdy does ask Gus to forgive him, and the two resume their friendship.

In her book, Catherine relates stories of people who have started the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation. These are real people who have had heinous crimes committed against them or loved ones. Some of the people have had their whole family murdered, and most of them knew the perpetrators. Is forgiveness easy? No, but as shown by both the works I've mentioned, it is necessary for reconciliation--and it is through this act that what Satan meant for evil, God will use for good. 

I urge you to buy a copy of Catherine's book and read about how the Rwandans are going about the task of healing the nation fractured by evil, one person at a time.

(Image © Cinema Libre Studio)

January 06, 2009

Daily roundup

Who will guard the guardians?

Scott_correctional Far too many inmates across the country have experiences that mimic those of Toni Bunton, whose story is told (with occasionally explicit detail) by the Detroit Free Press.

Toni, an inmate at a Michigan women's prison, suffered years of sexual abuse at the hands of male prison guards. Only recently has she joined a group of other female inmates to file suit against her oppressors. A survey released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics reveals that 38,000 other inmates identify with Toni's pain.

These tragic tales demonstrate a truth we prefer to ignore -- the human nature responsible for inmates' crimes is the same nature that festers in the guards. Those who patrol the halls and monitor courtyards of our prisons are not immune from the seductions of sin. Neither are we. 

The solution to this quandary is not to propagate a noble lie, which Socrates proposed when asked who should guard the guardians of society -- relying on guards' altruism offers little hope for change. Rather, we should ensure that inmates have adequate access to legal redress of grievances by changing the terms of the Prison Litigation Reform Act. We should install strict oversight and accountability mechanisms for prison staff, such as those proposed by the Prison Rape Elimination Commission. This commission has been working for several years to craft standards for prevention, detection, response, and monitoring of sexual abuse in prisons and jails and will release its final draft this spring.

Of course, redemption and transformation of individual lives is the ultimate solution to prison sexual assault. Breaking the power of evil in the human heart can only occur through the One who came at Christmas to destroy the Devil's work.

(Image © Patricia Beck for the Detroit Free Press)

January 05, 2009

Daily roundup

Taking Innocence Seriously

Over at CommonConservative.com, our very own Karen Williams speaks up about life as an innocent behind bars:

Dwayne Allen Dail is the 207th entry on the long list of stories of injustice. Seeing Dwayne's bright smile gives no indication of the pain he has experienced. But, when he opens his mouth and, with halting voice, he begins to relate the events of the past 21 years of his life, there is no denying the horrors that will forever live in his mind.

Read Karen's full article to learn more about those who have suffered wrongful convictions and the steps that states are taking to take innocence seriously.

December 29, 2008

Stealing Jesus

Has anyone else heard about this latest bit of sacrilegious entertainment -- stealing baby Jesus figures out of nativity scenes across America? Chuck Norris's article "Jacking Jesus" explains that "skeptics might mock these defacements as negligible crimes, but stealing the soul of Nativities is one more dismal sign of a culture gone awry. What type of world do we live in when hoodlums (young and old) commit sacrilege for entertainment?"

Thank God, no one can "take away the real Jesus of history." Read the entire article for a glimpse of the real, historical Jesus who gives meaning not only to the Christmas season, but to all of life. 

December 18, 2008

Daily roundup

December 17, 2008

The death of civility

Anika Smith sends this deeply disturbing Web page from a group called Bash Back! bragging about their vandalism against a Mormon church. I'd give the page an R rating for language and sexual remarks, so please be aware before you click of what you're getting into, and proceed at your own risk. I post the link because this kind of thing -- not just the attacks, but the crowing over them -- is representative of a trend of which we all need to be aware.

I'm not talking about increasing amounts of violence and vandalism against religious conservatives. I'm talking about the open approval of such tactics by those who oppose them. You don't have to go to the URL above to see it: You can go to mainstream sites to read the comments about the fire set at Sarah Palin's church while people were inside, or to read about the online hilarity that ensued after an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at President Bush.

Are we witnessing the death of civility and the onset of a new age of intolerance against religion?

Seminary graduates, peacemakers, inmates

Fourteen prisoners in South Carolina received associate of arts degrees from Columbia International University last week. Like the graduates of a similar program in Louisiana, started by Burl Cain, the warden at Angola, these men are being commissioned as peacemakers within the prison system of South Carolina. 

Their theological training will be put to work in a very practical way, as they live out their faith and advocate for nonviolence in the often tense and violence-plagued atmosphere of prison life.  By allowing the program, the state hopes to benefit by seeing lower levels of violent behavior, a hope that has already been realized in Louisiana, where 147 inmates have completed the program run by New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The broad, systemic change has already begun in the lives of the fourteen men who graduated.

As the men passed [to receive their diplomas], Rebecca Rockholt of Hartsville caught her son Joseph’s eye, gave a little wave and dabbed her eyes as the tears began to fall.

“There have been a lot of prayers,” said Rockholt, accompanied by her husband, Oliver, daughter, Tammy, and niece, Heather. “It’s such a blessing.”

Joseph entered prison in 2000 a disgruntled man, but his family never gave up on him, he said.

“My mother told me this will either make you a better person or a bitter person,” he said, as he smiled and handed her his diploma. He graduated at the top of his class, with a perfect 4.0 grade point average.

December 16, 2008

Daily roundup

December 15, 2008

Justice without mercy...

Ijm "And earthly power doth then show likest God's/When mercy seasons justice." -- William Shakespeare

The other night, I had the privilege of attending my very first International Justice Mission (IJM) benefit dinner, where I heard the wrenching story of Maite, a beautiful Guatemalan teenager.

When IJM first discovered Maite, the scars on her her arms bore witness to the frequent beatings she received as a slave to a woman--supposedly a "family friend"--and the woman's teenage son. After Maite's rescue, they discovered that her physical torture had also included repeated rape by the son.

IJM's team of lawyers secured Maite's freedom and sent her to live in a Christian aftercare house, where she is learning to live and to thrive. In a photograph (similar to the photograph of some other girls above), Maite's eyes were blurred out to protect her privacy, but there is nothing private about her radiant smile.

But what about the woman and her son? Thanks to IJM, one has been arrested and a warrant is out for the other.

Mission almost accomplished. Justice served. IJM has successfully fought for freedom once again.

But the young man's black and white mug shot makes me look again. There is no smile here, just emptiness. Likely because of his actions, a young woman has years of emotional healing ahead of her. Dare I ask: what has it done to him?

Continue reading "Justice without mercy..." »

December 11, 2008

Daily roundup