Restoration and transformation of the incarcerated

Reforming our nation's criminal justice system is critical to ending hunger and poverty in the United States.  Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World.

By Rev. Carlos Malave

Every incarcerated person is a sister, nephew, husband, grandchild, son or daughter. Every incarcerated person is a human being who is loved by someone. Their life has been welcomed, cherished and celebrated, even if, in some cases, only by a few.

We all have the tendency of creating an emotional barrier, and distance ourselves from those who have done wrong or evil acts. When we do that, we don’t realize that we are expressing toward the transgressors the same emotions that in the first place turned them into criminals. Which is to say that there is a dormant criminal inside of each one of us. Throughout our lives, the majority of us face the possibility of crossing the line and giving way to the worst of our emotions. The gospel admonishes us: How can you say to your brother, “brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?

Most people have been privileged enough to grow up and live in a healthy environment where we have learned to control destructive tendencies. Others were raised in troubled families, in poverty or deprived of a good education. Others simply made the wrong decision. The reality is that those of us who have been blessed to live in a healthy environment, are privileged.

When we consider our justice system, we must always keep before us this human perspective. Our failures should not ultimately define who we are. Our existence is defined by the image of the Creator, which we bear. It is our human dignity, given to us by God, which determines our value in this life. Every human being has an inherent eternal value.

Morally conscious people can’t rejoice in the pain and tragedy of those who suffer, be them the victims or the transgressors. The respect and value for life that God has for every person must convict and move us to consider every person as indispensable. No human being is trash. The son of God gave his life for each person who has ever breathed on earth.

The criminal and judicial system of a society that considers itself “Christian,” has the responsibility and duty to seek the restoration and transformation of the incarcerated. They are not commodities of a capitalistic system; nor should they be deemed as less human. Because of our common propensity to fail, we must always put ourselves in their shoes. “Do onto others as you wish others do onto you”.

Pope Francis once said “we don’t think about the possibility that people can change their lives. We put little trust in rehabilitation … into society. But in this way we forget that we are all sinners and often, without being aware of it, we too are prisoners.”

Because of the example of Jesus, Christians should be champions of mercy and compassion. The scriptures are crystal clear when it comes to God’s desire for the redemption and transformation of every person. Including you and I.

Rev. Carlos Malave is executive director of Christian Churches Together in Louisville, Ky.

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