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March 3, 2008
One in a hundred Americans in prison? That can't be right, I thought as we drove home. I must have misheard.

But no. Ours is the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Whole rural communities survive economically on the presence of prisons in their midst, and their legislators fight for new ones: more jobs. Now that's a devil's trade-off: we need people in prison in order for other people to have jobs.

Meanwhile, somebody has to pay for these facilities. That would be us, of course, with increased taxes. And the proliferation of our prisons does not appear to have lowered our crime rate enough to make it all worth the expense, so we cram more inmates into the ones we have to keep costs down, jeopardizing the safety of inmates and correctional officers alike and laughing the idea of rehabilitative confinement out of the room -- another devil's bargain. One hears of prisons in which even AA meetings are forbidden,on the argument that to make them available to addicted inmates would be "coddling" them. So the most effective way ever devised to deal with addiction is denied to people who landed in prison because of their addictions, and who will land there again, if they don't get sober. Go figure.

I am not naive about how hard it is for an ex-offender to stay out of trouble. I have been involved with many, and sometimes I have been burned in that involvement. Some of them do need to be away, and some of them need to be away for life. I still think, though, that warehousing people facilities specifically designed to discourage any hope for a better life is not the way to help them learn a different way, and it seems the numbers agree with me.

It looks like we're going to have to come to terms with the idea of living with conspicuous sinners in some proximity to us. We're going to have to learn how. Some of them are going to have to be in our communities, and our communities will need to make provision for this reality in a way that takes safety, a community's economic need and the possibility of the restoration of those who offend our laws and morals into our presence into consideration. A tall order, but the current solution just won't do.

Who will get into heaven? they asked Jesus, and he made a little list: people who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked. Also on this list was people who visited those in prison.

Oh, he didn't mean people who had committed crimes! He meant people who were unjustly imprisoned! Well, maybe. But it doesn't say that -- it just says people in prison. And what we know about Jesus makes me doubt that he meant only the innocents in jail: he seems not to have gone out of his way to avoid the company of conspicuous sinners -- in fact, the reverse seems to have been the case. It was the self-righteous he avoided.
This Wednesday, March 5th: St. Peter's, Bay Shore, Long Island's Lenten School of Religion with Barbara Crafton and Joanna Depue. Begins with the Eucharist at 5:45. Call 631-665-0051.

This Thursday, March 6th: The Geranium Journey continues at Christ Church, Oyster Bay, NY at noon. Bring a brown bag lunch and enjoy lively conversation with Barbara Crafton. To reserve some time for private conversation with Barbara Crafton or prayer and healing touch with Joanna Depue after lunch, call the church at (516)922-6377.

This weekend, March 7-9, Barbara Crafton at St. Paul's by the Sea and Christ Church San Pablo in Jacksonville, FL. Call 904-249-4091.

Saturday, March 15th, Barbara Crafton at Holy Trinity Ocean City for their annual pre-Holy Week Retreat. This year, "Prayer in Time of War: Living the Love of God as Citizen and Christian." Call the church at (609) 399-1019.
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