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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Why Can't They Be More Grateful For Our Help?

Most of us might be on the right side of the good behavior curve, but it doesn't make us saints.
One of the laments I often hear at the Harrisonburg/Rockingham/Page Reentry Council I attend is that so few ex-offenders avail themselves of of the kinds of mentoring and other support offered them once they are released from prison.

There may be multiple reasons for this, many having to do with a simple lack of motivation and effort on the part of some ex-inmates. But I'm wondering how much of this also has to do with an ever widening "us-versus-them" gap fostered by our increasingly incarceration-bent society.

We middle-class and privileged citizens tend to see ourselves as part of an above average class, who out of the goodness of our paternalistic hearts reach out to people who have made poor choices that keep them in a state of relative poverty and disempowerment. They in turn tend to see us as a part of a better-than-thou majority that disrespects them, inflicts as much punishment as we can on them, and then expects them to appreciate us for doing so.

These mostly poorer neighbors, far less likely to be able to hire good attorneys to defend them and often being unable to afford bond while awaiting their "speedy trials", see themselves being unjustly jailed by people like us, whereas by right they should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Thus they, and rarely us, are subject to suffering humiliation by being paraded into court from a jail cell, wearing ill-fitting and garish looking orange or striped jump suits and in handcuffs and shackles. And they are far more frequently sentenced to do time in steel cages crowded with people they, like most of us, would never choose to be around, and limited to breathing fresh air and enjoying sunshine at most for an hour or two a week.

Those with a sentence of a year or more then usually spend an interminably long time in a state prison, cut off from their friends and loved ones, and from pursuing their normal work and social activities. The longer their incarceration the more their resentment tends to build and their anger toward those on the privileged outside grows.

So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that when they do get out, many of them want to remove themselves as far as possible and as soon as possible from "our kind", even when we sincerely want to help. They have come to neither trust us nor want to be around us.

I know I'm making a lot of generalities here. But at some level we should all agree that there is no clear line between "us" and "them". We are in God's eyes all imperfect sinners somewhere on a bell-shaped curve between saints on the one end of the spectrum and psychopaths on the other.

We might be forgiven, trying-to-do-better sinners, yes. But "they" and "us" are best seen as being a part of the same flawed human family.
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