Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Justice a Commodity?

Justice a Commodity!

Listening to SMART TALK on WITF, I was startled to hear the dean of the Penn State/Dickinson Law School describe justice as a commodity! Justice a commodity? Unfortunately, statistics confirm that description. In 1970, roughly 1 out of every 1000 went to prison in the US. Today we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world; approximately 1 out of every 107 US citizens! More than 65 million US citizens have criminal records. Add to that the 11 million hard working undocumented people living within our borders having no legal protections and we have a big problem!

Even for-profit prisons are beginning to recognize that our excessively high rates of incarceration and recidivism are bankrupting our nation, morally and financially. One unintended consequence of closing our mental hospitals is that many homeless and mentally ill end up in prison since they cannot get affordable treatment in their communities. Many inmates are learning disabled and/or alcoholics/addicts. Nor is it any wonder drug addiction is an epidemic when not only our media but our health care system holds up drugs as the seeming solution to our problems. And then there are our wounded warriors who end up incarcerated because of behaviors related to their post traumatic stress or brain injuries. Is this the kind of justice system and society we want?

Something is very wrong when huge corporations can buy elections making our elected officials more interested in job security than our nation's welfare. When Wall Street earns billions by cheating the public, caused the current economic downturn, and then have the audacity to whine about people wanting a living wage? When someone black or poor is incarcerated for possessing a ½ oz of marijuana but a Congressman gets a slap on the wrist for using cocaine?

Can we afford a justice system that sells justice as a commodity? Can we afford a justice system that sends the incarcerated to a hell in which they have no legal protections or rights? Can we afford a justice system that condemns anyone unfortunate enough to be incarcerated to a future in which 3 out of every 4 will be trapped in the revolving doors of recidivism because they will be released with untreated illnesses and addictions, crippling fines, little or no health care and because Congress passed a bevy of laws prohibiting ex-offenders from finding housing, receiving benefits, voting or getting good jobs! 

Recently the Rand Corp did a study concluding that every 100 inmates getting their GED or high school diploma while incarcerated saves the state as much as $1 million every 3 years. $1 million for just $140,000! If treating and educating those we are incarcerating would save that much tax payer money, why aren't we doing this?

Do we really want to live in a country where justice is a commodity on sale to the highest bidder, where the poor, uneducated, mentally ill, and addicted are sentenced to a life in prison because prisons have become a big business? Surely we can do better than that!

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church and co-convenor of the Adams County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Prison Society which meets the 3rd Wed of the month, 8 am at Dunlap's restaurant, Gettysburg.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Life Lessons

Not long ago I read The Fault in Our Stars, and like Gus, I grew up wanting to leave my mark on the world. To be somebody. In some ways, I've succeeded enough to discover fame is a fickle companion and fortune a deceptive lover. We ignore Polonius's advice to Hamlet at our own peril, “to thine own self be true for thou can'st not then be false to any man” When greed and power gained by any means becomes our god we not only destroy ourselves, we endanger the every existence of the world. True success demands that we do no harm to ourselves, others, our environment.

Our country is drowning in unhappiness. Unwilling to feel our pain we hide behind our various addictions. Street drugs, shopping, prescriptions, alcohol, gambling, depression, junk food, work, smart phones, techno toys...anything to deaden the pain. It's been said there are really only two kinds of pain, the pain that comes from refusing to deal with something and make the needed changes or the pain that comes with the agony of confrontation and change. The difference is the first never goes away but the second eventually transforms itself into something new, joyous and freeing.

Change and challenge are an inevitable part of life. Like oldsters of all generations I asnticipate the future with trepidation and tiptoe toward the new thing with more than a little anxiety. Embracing some changes while avoiding others, I am reminded of some life lessons I have learned.

--I have learned not to take life forgranted. Things can change in the blink of an eye.

--I have learned that failure need not define me. I can use my failures as steppingstones.

--I have learned to trust the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus not because I need an evacuation plan to heaven but because their wisdom contains what I need to live in relative peace and contentment.

--I have learned there is little point in trying to make a good impression on others.

--I have learned that trying to do as little harm as possible is a full time job. That applies too myself, those I love, the community around me, and this precious planet we call Earth.

--I have learned I am not the center of the universe, that it's not the world's responsibility to cater to my wishes.

-- I have learned to intentionally pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” because it's precisely when I think I know what's best that things go terribly wrong.

– I have learned to be grateful for what I have instead of bemoaning what I don't have.

-- I have learned that less is more and that simplicity is liberating.

– I have learned that love is stronger than hate and that forgiveness is always liberating.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church