Tuesday, January 29, 2019

HARD TIME VIRGINIA Vol. 4, No. 2 (an occasional newsletter by and for inmates)

2018 Parole Release Numbers Still Disappointing

Regular Parole
January: 20 grants and only 6 were first time grants (No Female grants, 4 Geriatric grants)
February: 13 grants and only 3 were first time grants (No Female grants, 1 Geriatric grant) 1 committed a new crime while incarcerated.
March: 39 grants and only 18 were first time grants (2 Female grants,   5 Geriatric grants) 2 committed a new crime while incarcerated.
April: 48 grants and only 23 were first time grants (No Female grants, 10 Geriatric grants) 8 committed a new crime while incarcerated.
May: 40 grants and only 20 were first time grants ( No Female grants,   6 Geriatric grants) 2 committed a new crime while incarcerated.
June: 43 grants and only 16 were first time grants (No Females, 6 Geriatric grants) 4 committed a new crime while incarcerated.
July: 28 grants and only 2 were first time grants (No Female grants,      9 Geriatric grants) 2 committed a new crime while incarcerated.
August: 27 grants and only 4 were first time grants (2 Females, 4 Geriatric grants) 1 committed a new crime while incarcerated.
September: 14 grants and only 5 were first time grants (1 Female grant, 2 Geriatric grants) 2 committed a new crime while incarcerated.
October: 47 grants and only 19 were first time grants (1 Female grant,  4 Geriatric grants) 4 committed a new crime while incarcerated.
November: 21 grants and only 6 were first time grants (2 Female grants, 3 Geriatric grants) 3 committed a new crime while incarcerated.
December: 20 grants and only 3 were first time grants (No Female grants, 2 Geriatric grants) 1 committed a new crime while incarcerated.

Cramped Quarters
Inmate John Nissley reports that the size of Cell N3-301 that he shares with his roommate at Buckingham Correctional Center (BKCC) is as follows:.
Actual Cell Size: 75 Square Feet (600 cubic feet) 
Usable Cell Size: 26.5 Square Feet (208.36 cubic feet)

Censorship of inmate's writings challenged
By Tyler Hammel - The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress
Saturday, November 24, 2018

A Charlottesville attorney has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Virginia inmate who says officials censored his writings, violating his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
    According to the complaint filed by attorney Jeff Fogel in federal court in Richmond, Uhuru Baraka Rowe had two essays he wrote about poor prison conditions censored prior to their release.
    Neither essay contained anything that could be considered a security risk, the suit alleges, but they do contain information critical of both the Sussex II State Prison and its staff.
    The suit names five defendants.... All are being sued in their individual capacities.
    As a politically conscious prisoner, Rowe was targeted for the political content of his essays, the suit claims.
    Fogel said that in his time as an attorney, he's been a part of more than a dozen similar cases and in every case the suits have worked out in favor of the inmates. Censorship in federal and state prisons is widespread, Fogel said, and even his own writings teaching inmates how to file their own lawsuits have been blocked before.
    Given the limited literacy seen among inmates, Fogel said he finds it frustrating that prisons would try to censor both incoming literature and letters sent by inmates.
    "One of the best things that can happen to inmates during their incarceration is access to literacy and education," he said. "The fact that so many prisons try and block this access is ludicrous."
    According to Fogel, prison staff is only allowed to censor or prevent the release of inmate writings that contain directions for criminal activity, escape plans, coded information or other obvious security risks.
    In one of the essays, Rowe describes Sussex II as a "Potemkin village," a reference to fake portable villages built by Russian nobleman Grigory Potemkin in 1787 to fool and impress his former lover, Empress Catherine II.
    Much like the Potemkin villages, Rowe said the prison is made to look put together and functional all while hiding the cruelties and injustices found within from inspectors representing the American Correctional Association.
    "When the inspectors leave, however the facade is removed, the show comes to an end, and it's back to business as usual; back to treating us prisoners in a degrading and dehumanizing manner and subjecting us to conditions that are harsh, cruel and overly oppressive," he wrote in one of the two essays in question.
    Unable to do much out of fear of retaliation from prison authorities, Rowe writes on his blog that writing letters to those on the outside is one of the few things he can do.
    "Amidst the groans, the agony, the sighs and teary eyes, incarcerated Freedom Fighters bow our heads, pick up our pens, and write; hoping that you, The People, will see and hear the truth," he writes in the closing paragraph of the other essay in question.
    Among other criticisms highlighted in Rowe's essays are: poor-quality water, substandard medical care, overcrowding, misconduct from prison staff and understaffing. The understaffing has caused the prison to go on lockdown due to insufficient security, forcing prisoners to stay in their cells for longer periods of time than usual, one essay states.
    Rowe has been imprisoned for more than 20 years on a 93-year sentence. According to VDOC's website, Rowe will not be released until 2076. He is not eligible for parole.
    In an earlier essay Rowe wrote that was critical of Virginia's parole system, he said he accepted a blind plea agreement in a case involving robbery and the murder of two innocent people. Barely 18 years old at the time, Rowe said the sentencing guidelines suggested a maximum prison term of 13 years. So far, his requests for clemency have not been approved.

Letter From Inmate Jonathan White
Happy Sabbath Harvey, 
We are having a "Kairos Weekend" this week for the brothers who signed up to participate and there is a joyful reunion scheduled in the evening for everyone who has participated in a Karios weekend here since it began. It is a very joyful time when brothers come together from all different walks of faith in fellowship and worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Brothers express unbridled exchanges of faith and self. It is more than just the homebaked cookies and coffee. It is a time that hearts are really touched by the messages and testimonies shared. To see some of the hardheartedest convicts in prison break down and cry out for repentance... and for their first time accept the love of Christ.
    In 1982, I walked into the prison chapel at Southampton on a Saturday evening Sabbath Day Service sponsored by the Campostella Heights Seventh-Day Adventist Church out of Norfolk, and on March 10, 1984, I fully accepted Christ Jesus in my life and took my first baptism ever on March 1, 1986, as a "believer." That moment changed my heart and soul from then on. 
    As the years passed by at Southampton, I became the Inside Inmate Coordinator for the Seventh-Day Adventist worship services and Bible studies. Now mind you...I am not one to feed into denominations or traditional systems. If the teaching is not from the pure Word of God... then it is not food for my plate, and to this day I remain a nondenominational believer in Christ Jesus. 
    Yes, prior to coming to prison, I was dipping and dapping into seeking a church home. My family were Pentecostal, Baptist, Catholic, and my grandmother's sister was a Seventh-Day Adventist. She invited me to come to a youth meeting one Sabbath evening and two of my schoolmates who were also SDA went along with me. That evening was remarkable because after the evening worship service (sundown) we all jumped into a church van and went to the bowling alley for the remainder of the evening. Hot dogs, cheese burgers, pizza and just good joyful teenage fun on the bowling lanes. 
   I met my first Christian girl friend that evening too. Life was different and I ended up singing in the youth choir with my two schoolmates on a dare. Today's youth don't gather together like we did then and just have down home clean fun without the drugs, alcohol and violence. Hey, young people today can't even have a birthday party without some mayhem occurring. 
    Those were the good old days!

A Song For Valentines Day
by my Pittsburgh-based singer/songwriter son Brad Yoder
love is all I have for you,
           it will have to do, 
           if you were looking for a miracle,
           the fact that we’re still here, 
           well that’s miraculous as anything
           that I have seen magicians pull,
           but I forgot the tricks I knew, 
           love is all I have for you..
love is all I have for you,

love is all that’s left after the wind has blown the chaff away,
I laugh at what I tried to save,
and disappointment’s just a lens to magnify what might have been,
but none of that was ever true,
love is all I have for you,

I close my eyes, I’m a child by the water,
casting stones so circles spread,
then blink twice, and we’re old on a park bench,
watching birds eat scattered bread,
in between we lost track of time,
but she is kind enough to remind us..
the little space between goodbyes is really only pocket-sized,
I carry you around with me in case I need some sympathy,
this fear that we’re not good enough will disappear when morning comes,
‘cause none of that was ever true,
love is all I have for you..

miraculous as anything that I have seen magicians do,
but I forgot the tricks I knew,
love is all I have for you

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The '67 MLK Speech We Should Heed The Most

King delivered his speech on Vietnam exactly a year before
his assassination.
 (photo by John C. Goodwin)
In the last issue of TIME magazine, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Viet Thanh Nguyen, in a piece called "King's Other Legacy", makes the case that MLK's 1967 "Beyond Vietnam" speech has even more implications for today than does his better known "I Have A Dream" one delivered four years earlier.

In 1967, Nguyen reminds us, the Vietnam war was at its peak, and American forces were using more firepower (much of it against civilians) than the U.S. deployed in all of World War II. King rightfully called it a "war against the poor" that young black men were compelled to wage, along with their fellow draftees, to "guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem."

Here's an excerpt from Nguyen's article:

"King's prophecy connects the war in Vietnam with our forever wars today, spread across multiple countries and continents, waged without end from global military bases numbering around 800. Some of the strategy for our forever war comes directly from lessons the American military learned in Vietnam: drone strikes instead of mass bombing; volunteer soldiers instead of draftees, censorship of gruesome images from the battlefronts, and encouraging the reverence of soldiers.

"You can draw a direct line from the mantra of 'thank you for your service' and 'support our troops' to American civilian regret about not having supported American troops during the war in Vietnam. This sentimental hero worship serves civilians as much as the military. If our soldiers can be absolved of any unjust taint, then the public who support them can be absolved, too."

Read the entire TIME article here:

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Try This Test For Ethnic And Ideological Bias

Check out more of the story of what happened near the Lincoln
Memorial last week in order to get a fairer picture.
Like many who learned about the controversial incident involving  some high school students and a native American elder last Saturday, I found myself quick to judge the young men with the 'Make America Great Again' hats. They were all being rude and racist, period.

And while there is evidence of some of their comments and gestures being inappropriate, one of the things I learned about myself was that I'm often too quick to rush to judgment before hearing all of the story.

For example, I realized my biases against the hyper-nationalism represented by the MAGA slogan, along with my bias in favor of native Americans, led me to some unfair conclusions. When I saw more video recordings of what preceded and followed the segment I first saw on social media, I realized the story was more complex than it appeared, and that the taunts of a few members of a nearby radical fringe group, the Black Hebrew Israelites, were a major part of the problem.

So some recent Facebook responses on this have led me to post the photo above and invite readers to imagine their reaction if any of the following had been a part of the story:

1. What if instead of a native American with a drum there had been a Roman Catholic nun with a rosary, and what if the youth in the confrontation had been young Muslim women wearing hijabs?

2. Or what if the 'elder' had been a burley white nationalist wearing a MAGA cap and chanting pro Trump slogans, and the youth were wearing Black Lives Matter shirts?

You get the picture. If you're like me, even if other details of the event had been similar, your visceral responses would not be the same.

Maybe we should all take time to apply these kinds of Rorschach tests of our objectivity and fairness.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Listening To Men

"Masculine and Mennonite--Ministering to Men in our Congregations” was the title of a workshop I led at a Virginia Conference Assembly many years ago. Since I had never led a seminar of its kind before, I wasn't sure what kind of response to expect.

Over thirty people attended, and my first surprise was that a third of them were women. 

I was also intrigued by the following:

1. Many men see society's perceptions of them as almost entirely negative.

My first question to the group was, “What are some of the common images people have of men today?” The first eight characteristics mentioned (all by men) were macho, competitive, holding and controlling power, non-feeling, abusive, non-communicative, sex-crazed, and wimpy, hardly the kind of qualities you'd want in persons you want to spend a lot of time with. Only after I noted how negative these descriptions were did we get several positive words, like strong, providing leadership, and hard-working. At least one of these was offered by a woman.

2. Men feel badly about their negative stereotypes, but are at a loss to know how to change them.

Like others I’ve had conversations with, the men in the workshop seemed hesitant to complain for fear of being misunderstood. Most agreed men deserved some of the negative stereotypes they're labeled with, so didn’t want to appear defensive, or as men who just “don’t get it.” They believe they are “getting it,” or are at least trying to. Some feel battered by the charges brought against them, feel blamed for crimes they don’t believe they personally commit, for macho attitudes they feel they no longer have, and for situations they are at a loss to know how to change.

3. Most men do not see women in general, or feminists in particular, as their enemy.

Most men really like women, need women, often seek them out when they need a good friend to talk to. Most in my group seemed totally willing to relate to women as equals, to seek a truce in the war between the sexes. Rather than coming through as adversarial or antagonistic in the face of feminist anger, they leaned more toward feeling vaguely guilty and confused. There were no obvious machismo types in this group, none who spoke out for holding on to patriarchal gender roles. Many saw feminist perspectives as a helpful and necessary corrective, an important first word about what men need to work at, if not necessarily the last word.

4. Many men feel intimidated in expressing what they are thinking and feeling in the presence of women.

After the session, a number of men admitted to me that they felt uncomfortable expressing what they really felt with women being a part of the group, and wished privately they could have had the entire hour to themselves. In the workshop, they were unanimous in agreeing they feel anything but “powerful” in the presence of women, and that in fact women held certain forms of psychological power over them they found hard to define and equally hard to stand up to. Some, not wanting to be defensive, were either cautious with their comments or chose to remain silent.

5. Men are relieved to hear that they are not irredeemably bad people, and that there is more than one side to the debate over male and female power.

One point well received in the workshop was that while men may have clearly benefitted more than women from living in male dominated societies, centuries-old systems of matriarchy/patriarchy have resulted in both benefits and hardships for both sexes. Examples given of the high price men have paid for their favored status were a) their life expectancy having become, on average, seven years shorter (though there was considerable debate as to what, if anything, this said about quality of life), b) traditionally male-held jobs being generally more hazardous and less desirable, c) men having more demands on their incomes than women, but actually doing less of the consumer spending, and d) men being psychologically and legally coerced into being “cannon fodder” for their nations' wars. Many had never even considered the down side of many of these “male privileges,” or thought about how men's tendencies to suppress their feelings about these or other stressors may be harming them.

6. Men feel a need for more conversations with other men--as well as with women--that will  help improve relationships between the genders.

An hour is much too short,” “We need to do this again,” and “This was just enough to get started,” were among the comments made at the end of the workshop. If there was consensus on little else, everyone agreed that much remained to be done to bridge the gap between the sexes, and that men, as well as women, must summons the courage needed to express themselves honestly, respectfully, and empathically to each other.  

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Spending A Night With My 87-Year-Old Sister

With my remaining sisters Maggie (my right) and Fannie Mae
 (my left) in January 2018.
"I don't want to be treated like a baby," my oldest living sister repeatedly reminded me as I spent a night looking after her last week, "but thanks anyway for 'baby-sitting' me!"

Fannie Mae, single and independent all her adult life, has until recent years not only been totally capable of taking care of herself, but as a registered nurse and a midwife who's served in far off places like Belize and Paraguay, has devoted her entire life taking care of others. She also devoted herself to the love and care of an adopted autistic child, my niece Nina, abandoned as an infant in Paraguay.  So having others doing things for her like parceling out her medications is hard for her, to say the least.

Spending a night with my aging sister some 45-minutes away reminded me again that if we live long enough, most of us will get to that same place when our roles are reversed. We will once again, as when we were young, need others to care for us when we experience aches and pains and suffer from illnesses.

My sister, with a heart condition and considerable arthritic pain, is blessed by being able to live in an apartment with only a garage separating her from two of her adult nieces, Barbara Ann and Sharon Schrock. These wonderful women share the other part of the duplex with their 91-year-old father Alvin, husband of their late mother and my sister Lucy. Each of the nieces has part time work of their own and yet are dedicated caregivers for whom we can never be grateful enough.

In my own experience of aging, I increasingly wonder just how Alma Jean and I will navigate the next chapter of our own life journey. I hope we can look back on a life as well lived as that of my sister Fannie Mae, and experience some of the same kinds of care from our loved ones when we come to our journey's end.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Meyer, Mennonites And The Prosperity Gospel

The Joyce Meyer compound includes a large mansion for
herself and her family.

I'm glad for what I learned about prosperity, but it got out of balance. I'm glad for what I've learned about faith, but it got out of balance.” 
- televangelist Joyce Meyer, in a recent Instagram post.

Well known Bible teacher Joyce Meyer appears to be tempering the kind of "prosperity gospel" she and many of her TV preacher and megachurch pastor counterparts have promoted, one that promises personal wealth as a reward for generous giving. Yet Meyer undoubtedly sees her massive personal prosperity as a direct result of her faith in God.

And according to God has been very generous to Joyce and her husband Dave, who together earn a salary of well over a million a year. They have been blessed with not jut one, but with five different luxurious homes, and in 2003 she was able to pay a whopping $10 million for a private jet. And yet the ministry pays no property taxes, apparently another miraculous gift, according to this source.

Few Mennonites I know subscribe to a theology that suggests we will become personally wealthy if we are faithful to God, or if we contribute generously to the church and to causes like that of Joyce Meyer Ministries.

Yet we may still find ourselves mostly agreeing with the following:

1. If we enjoy more prosperity than others, its all because God has blessed us in special ways.

2. Our possessions and our investments and bank accounts are fundamentally ours to use and enjoy, assuming we give generously and tithe faithfully.

3. If we earn our wealth honestly, either through profitable businesses or high paying professions (and give generously), we are entitled to enjoy the higher standard of living that goes with that level of prosperity.

4. God chooses to prosper people in some privileged parts of the world far more than in the majority of poorer nations.

5. None of us can be expected to give in a way that actually makes us poorer, but we each have the right--and even the responsibility--to accumulate more personal wealth each year of our working life.

Whenever Mennonites have become financially prosperous they have suffered from a decline in numbers and/or even worse consequences. Witness the experience of Dutch Anabaptists and later Mennonites in Russia and the Ukraine.

Sadly, what we fail to learn from Jesus and the prophets we may be destined to learn from history.

Here's a link to more on this subject:

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Byler Nails It In Today's DNR Open Forum

 A longer version of this piece appeared in 
the January 2 Richmond Times-Dispatch.
J. Daryl Byler is executive director of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU.

When my family lived in Mississippi, we hosted several inmates as part of a Prison Fellowship program designed to prepare prisoners to transition back to their communities.

During these two-week homestays, the prisoners focused on giving back — working with Habitat for Humanity and speaking in schools, for example. I was surprised by how many of the soon-to-be released inmates were eager to encourage young students not to make the same mistakes that had landed them in prison.
Indeed, formerly incarcerated persons who have learned hard lessons are potentially some of the most effective mentors for youth. We could do more to benefit from their life experiences.
Congress recently approved a criminal justice reform bill that will reduce the sentences for many nonviolent offenders and cut recidivism rates by reducing the barriers prisoners face in rejoining their communities in productive ways.
But the “First Step Act” applies only to the small sliver of persons (about 180,000) incarcerated in the U.S. federal system. Nearly two million more are incarcerated in state prisons and local jails.
Virginia lawmakers have the opportunity to act creatively to make changes that not only save money, but that contribute to the well-being of communities across the commonwealth.
Virginia is already on a good path. It has the lowest recidivism rate in the nation — 22.4 percent.
There are currently 125,000 elderly prisoners incarcerated in the United States — at a cost of $16 billion per year. Without dramatic changes in sentencing and parole policies, that number could grow to 400,000 by 2030 — at a cost of more than $50 billion per year. An American Civil Liberties Union report finds “that states on average will save $66,294 per aging prisoner released per year, even if those prisoners rely on public assistance for support upon release.”
Certainly Virginia and other states can use these funds in more creative and cost-effective ways to build just and sustainable communities.
Of course there are risks in paroling prisoners. But we should not overlook the many contributions that formerly incarcerated men and women have to make to society.
Tyrone Werts, who served 36 years of a life sentence, is one example of a formerly incarcerated person now having a big impact on his community. Now in his 70s, Werts works with The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program in Philadelphia to bring together incarcerated and nonincarcerated people “for transformative learning experiences that invite participants to take leadership in addressing crime, justice, and other issues of social concern.”
At 593 per 100,000 people, the United States incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than every country in the world except El Salvador. By comparison Germany and Japan incarcerate 75 and 41 per 100,000, respectively.
We can do better! Incarcerating so many people is not good for budgets or for building communities that grow by learning from mistakes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Are These The World Leaders Of The Future?

Brazil's 38th president is removing protection for its rain forests.
According to the last issue of The Week, Brazil's newly elected right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, plans to make the Amazon rain forest far more accessible to farmers and loggers. This is sure to further threaten the future of a huge area what has been called the "lungs of the planet".

Citing an editorial in, nearly 13 percent of the country, actually an area the size of Texas and California combined, is set aside for native tribes, which includes much of what is the largest rain forest in the world. One of Bolsonaro's first acts as president was to take away the right of the National Indian Foundation to decide matters regarding lands claimed by indigenous people and to turn that power over to his agriculture minister, "a fierce advocate of farmers' rights."

(It should be noted that one of the reasons there is so much demand for farm land in Brazil is to meet the demand for cheap beef for our our fast food cravings, but that's another story.)

Mr. Duterte is the 16th president of the Philippines.
In the same issue of The Week there is a column from the Manila Times about Philippine's new president, Rodrigo Duterte, who recently boasted, in one of his frequent rambling speeches, that when he was thirteen he groped their family's housemaid while she was asleep.

Instead of public outrage at the president's callous admission, the Times reported that "rationalizations and justifications poured like rain" from Duterte's supporters. The column went on to state, "We will lose respect for the office and for ourselves if we can't keep our moral bearings under this immoral president."

But are these just signs of things to come?

Monday, January 14, 2019

Today's DNR Editorial On Open Doors Shelter

editorial January 14, 2019
For the benefit of residents who don't have access to the Daily News-Record (now under new management), here's an example of why I subscribe:

When the mercury drops and the snow falls as it did this weekend, many of us have an extra pep in our step as we make the frigid journey from the car to the front door. 
Maybe you put on a kettle to make tea you can sip while snuggled under a warm blanket and perhaps in front of a wood stove or fire.
It times like these we might acknowledge the pleasures of creature comforts, but we suspect many take them for granted. It’s times like these that some in our community flock to the Open Doors emergency shelter.
They don’t have a home or most likely even a car to seek refuge from the elements, and Open Doors is often their only option other than sleeping outside or committing a petty crime to get a roof over their head for the night in Rockingham County Jail.
Called the Harrisonburg And Rockingham Thermal Shelter when it opened in 2007, Open Doors is a seasonal shelter hosted by faith-based organizations, which supply volunteers to help serve a nightly meal and visit with guests. Its location varies each week. 
Open Doors guests may not be able to get into other shelters because they have substance-abuse problems or are registered sex offenders. Not all fall under those categories, and many are simply down on their luck and had nowhere else to turn.
Regardless, the volunteers and staff who provide these folks with a hot meal, a little dignity and other support are to be commended for what they do.
Cynics say organizations like Open Doors enable homelessness, a ludicrous assessment of the work it does.
The goal, foremost, is to prevent people from dying of exposure, with the long-term aim of helping people gain permanent housing, which Open Doors has successfully done.
Is there potentially someone who would take advantage of a well-meaning group of people? Maybe, but that’s better than living in a community that doesn’t care if marginalized people die in the streets.
At least that’s what Matthew 25 might lead you to believe.
... I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

Saturday, January 12, 2019

I'm All For Freedom Of Speech, But This Garbage Is Far From Free

This is guaranteed to bring about the end of
cancer, Alzheimers, heart disease, strokes
and the entire Democratic Party.
I ran across this scam while accessing a supposedly reputable weather information website today. Below all of the weather information were links to some other posts. One that caught my eye had a photo of Nancy Pelosi and the caption "This major scandal just leaked out of the Democratic Party."

Curious about what kind of dreadful conspiracy this might describe, I endured a long lecture about how 'Crooked Hilary' has for years been working with a powerful criminal cartel of very wealthy people who promoted her election bid and through which she has managed to gain total control of the entire Food and Drug Administration. According to this site, through her elaborate and insidious "Executive Plan 5" she manages to promote a wicked US pharmaceutical industry that results in thousands of people dying every year from prescription drugs that have been scientifically proven not to work and are in fact proven to actually make people worse.

What is claimed by this dubious site to actually cure all kinds of cancers, and without chemotherapy, radiation or deadly surgery, is a rare product called "Sour Honey." Simply add it to your tea and your dreaded cancer cells will immediately begin to self-destruct!

I'm certainly not a fan of US drug companies and our current expensive healthcare system, but all of this is of course patently ridiculous. And the cost of this book (actually a 45-page pamphlet published by the so-called Health Sciences Institute and posted on Amazon), ranges from $70 for a used copy to well over $300 for a new one.

My question is why any reputable weather website would post this kind of scam--and why a company like Amazon would market it. And trust me, I would feel exactly the same way if this were about some anti-Trump conspiracy (as opposed to some reputable expose based on verifiable evidence).

In an era in which any view with which one doesn't agree tends to be labeled as 'fake news', I still hope the truth matters.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Some Bread For God

The Virginia MennoniteRelief Sale effort
to raise cash for needy refugees in
2018 was encouraging, but fell
short of 2017 SOS giving,
Something memorable and unexpected happened to me as I wrapped my arms around our preschool granddaughter, who was sobbing from having hurt herself in a fall. In trying my best to comfort her I felt a new sense of connection with untold numbers of parents and grandparents around the world holding hurting and hungry children. How must they feel when their most vulnerable cry from lack of something as basic as healthcare, or the food they need to survive?

Few of us have ever embraced a malnourished child, or experienced any significant lack of food ourselves. This in spite of the fact that an estimated 17,000 children die of hunger and hunger-related diseases every day, more than the total number of students enrolled at nearby James Madison University every twenty four hours. What makes this so tragic is the fact that there is actually enough food in the world for everyone if it were only distributed equitably.

Jesus spoke more about feeding the hungry and helping the needy than almost any other subject. He taught his followers that to offer bread to a hungry person is the same as personally providing food for himself, and that to look the other way when one has the means to help is like turning away from God.

Unfortunately, Americans in general, and Christians in particular, aren’t doing very well in sharing their wealth. According to a study done a decade ago by sociologists Christian Smith, Michael Emerson and Patricia Snell, authors of Passing The Plate, Why Christians Don't Give More  of Their Money (Oxford University Press, 2008) one in four US Protestants doesn’t give at all, and the the median rate of annual giving for professed followers of Jesus is only $200. This represents less than half a percent of their taxable income. Among Protestants who call themselves evangelicals, one in ten report giving nothing, and a mere 27 percent tithe, while another thirty-six percent give less than 2% to their churches or other charities.

According to the Passing the Plate authors, what makes us look especially miserly is that American Christians who attend services at least twice a month and claim their faith is “very important” to them earn a staggering $2.5 trillion dollars a year. Collectively that’s enough wealth to qualify for membership in the G7, a group representing the world’s seven largest economies. Even a modest ten percent of that could do wonders.

Smith and his coauthors discovered that the poor are actually more generous than their wealthier counterparts. American Christians who earned less than $10,000, they found, gave 2.3 percent of their income through their congregations, whereas those who earned $70,000 or more averaged only 1.2 percent.

Is this pathetic or what?

My parents, who struggled to feed their family through the Great Depression, never lost sight of their obligation to share generously with others. I remember well my father consistently giving a tithe of his farm income when I was growing up, in spite of how hard that was at times. And my mother, hospitable from the heart and amazing in her ability to enjoy more while living on less, never hesitated to help a neighbor in need. I feel forever blessed by their example.

Activist Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan once wrote these words:

"Somewhere in your life, may you see one starved person,
the look in her face when the bread finally arrives.
Hope you might have baked it or bought it or even kneaded it
For that look on her face, for your hands meeting hers across a piece of bread,
You might be willing to lose a lot, or suffer lot, or die a little even."

Sunday, January 6, 2019

"My Granddaughter, Now In College, Found Me On Your Blog After Ten Years Of Separation"

Jonathan White, a respected inmate at Augusta Correctional Center, recently wrote me the following about his granddaughter, now a first year student at Georgia's Valdosta State University. Today is her birthday. 

Here is what he recently wrote:

I am so thrilled today at my granddaughter's college grades for her first semester classes. She made the Dean's List with four A's and one B! Yes, that once young teenager who found me on your blog site after ten long years of separation from the last time I had held her on my knee in the Brunswick Visiting Room (where we played scrabble together for the very first time) has become an "honor student" well on her way in her chosen nursing studies. Praise God!"

Nikki White will be turning 19 years old January 6. She still designs clothing in her spare time and wishes to visit either France or Japan one day. I have got to find someway to help her fulfill that dream. I also wanted to visit Spain when I was her age,  and if I ever get my rights back to travel that is still on my bucket list. If you learn of any positive means that I can help her make that dream come true, do share that information with me. 

I am pursing a proposal for to establish a Parole Peer Support Group here like the one at Buckingham Correctional Center. We have 243 parole eligible offenders here at ACC, nearly 11.5% percent of the total of 2100 in Virginia, and they need a positive pre-reentry peer support group to strive in hope while awaiting parole. l will update you on it once it is reviewed and considered.

"But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does." (James 1:25, New American Bible)
Here is Nikki's address:

Ms. Dominique "Nikki" White
Valdosta State University
1500 N. Patterson St.
Valdosta, Georgia 31698

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Day Twelve of Christmas--Pray For People Working Together For Shalom and Justice

I submitted the following as an Open Forum piece to the Daily News-Record:

When it comes to criminal justice, our community is learning the value of working together.

Thanks to the leadership of William Kyger, chair of our Community Criminal Justice Board, some 300 local citizens took part in a CCJB sponsored forum on the subject October 15 at JMU’s Memorial Hall. 

Presenters Kathy Rowings of the National  Association of Counties and Neal Goodloe, Criminal Justice Planner of the Jefferson Area CCJB, offered proven ways of reducing incarceration and helping offenders become productive, tax-paying citizens.  

Attendees were members of Faith in Action’s coalition of 26 local congregations, the Valley Justice Coalition, the Northeast Neighborhood Association, Virginia Organizing and many others.

As a show of community support, a peaceful walk along Liberty Street and MLK Way to Memorial Hall attracted some 150 participants. All joined together for an evening that was civil and positive, representing a community considering ways of improving itself. 

Without question, this kind of grassroots engagement is far, far better than citizen apathy and indifference. By working together we’re already making progress on many fronts.

Four years ago we had intense local conversations about a Community Justice Plan that was mandated for seeking state funds for a new jail. Moseley Architects was hired to conduct a required study, and many local folks became involved. Wynonah Hogan, a young high school student, gathered over 200 signatures in favor of finding alternatives to incarceration, and produced an impressive hour-long documentary on the issue. 

Community engagement has remained high, and response on the part of public officials has been largely gratifying. One Moseley report recommendation, Day Reporting, is already happening at Gemeinschaft Home. A Drug Court has been established, thanks to the efforts of Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst and Judge Bruce Albertson. More juvenile cases are being referred to an alternative restorative justice process.

In 2013, after a series of meetings with concerned citizens, Lacy Whitmore, then director of the Community Services Board, visited the Arlington County Jail and came back with ideas for improving inmate mental health services. With the support of the Board of Supervisors and the City Council, a full time CSB counselor position has been funded. We’ve also added an additional community-supported half-time jail chaplain, and dedicated volunteers continue to offer a variety of classes and other services. More recently, Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson and Captain Jimmy Wimer invested in electronic tablets offering a variety of educational courses to a pod of inmates on a trial basis. Time spent in learning is rewarded by limited music and other entertainment options.

Challenges remain. Our incarceration rate has increased by some 700% since 1995, while our area population has grown by only 25%, and while violent crime rates are dropping. Jail “keep fees,” an added tax of $1 a day ($3 at Middle River), add to inmate family stress. More housing and job opportunities are needed for those being released from incarceration.

But a community like ours sees more solutions than problems. Together, we can find them.

Friday, January 4, 2019

On Day 11 of Christmas--Pray For An End To US Gun Violence

He looked for a crop of justice,
     and saw them murdering each other.
He looked for a harvest of righteousness,
     and heard only the moans of victims.

Isaiah 5:7 (the Message)

It's hard to imagine the nation’s outrage if the mass killings that have occurred here over the past decades had been carried out by known members of terrorist organizations.

When it came to fighting terrorism after 9/11, Americans didn’t just throw up their hands in helplessness, but immediately went about creating a new agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and empowered it to do whatever necessary to prevent future disasters of that kind. Many now believe that department has gone too far in creating restrictions and regulations limiting our freedoms and our rights to privacy, but most still support the nation’s response.

So why not more aggressive action to prevent the kinds of mass killings we've been witnessing?

I hear many pundits, politicians and even preachers simply express feelings of helplessness over this kind of carnage. Seeing it largely as the work of psychotic loners, they conclude that no amount of additional screening for gun or ammunition purchases--and no stricter laws limiting the kinds of weapons or the size of ammunition clips available--could help prevent these tragedies. It’s a moral and a mental health problem, they say, and the common wisdom is that neither morality nor sanity can be legislated.

While there is some truth to that notion, laws are not only intended to prevent harm but to make a statement about a society’s values. I can’t believe that supporting unlimited access to combat-style weapons (designed only to kill as efficiently as possible) is consistent with placing a high value on human life. And even if some semi-automatic assault weapons were approved for hunting, do they need to be equipped with a hundred rounds of ammunition?

I doubt that the framers of the Constitution had such means of massive destruction in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment. I believe they would share our outrage over the fact that we are 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun here in the US than in Japan, and 6 times more likely than in Germany, resulting in a total of over 12,000 such deaths here each year. And they would not attribute that to our being more violent or more deranged than citizens of other nations.

Please pray for an end to gun violence.

We have made a covenant with death,
And with Sheol we have an agreement;
When the overwhelming scourge passes through
it will not come to us;
For we have made lies our refuge,
And in falsehood we have taken shelter.

Isaiah 28:15