WISDOM Religious Leaders’ Statement on 11×15. (To sign on, e-mail your name, city and congregation name to firstname.lastname@example.org)
11X15 sign-on letter
- Reflection by Rev. Steve Savides, We Are Still Here
- Reflection by Rabbi Dena Feingold
- Reflection by Rev. David Anderson
- Reflection by Rev. Willie Brisco
- The Rev. Dr. Matthew L. Sauer 11×15 Press Conference Feb. 21, 2012
- Rev. Diane Murray Thoughts for the Feb. 21, 2012 News Conference
ELCA draft statement calls for criminal justice reform
Catholic Herald On-Line
Reflection by Rev. Steve Savides, We Are Still Here
I grew up kitty-corner to the state prison in Waupun. That’s where the old parsonage was for Union Congregational Church where my dad was pastor. One of my earliest memories has to do with the seven of us eating lunch when the noon whistle went off. My dad looked at the five of us kids, ages 13, 11, 9, 7 and 4, and as the whistle sounded, announced, “They’re coming over the wall!” Five sets of eyes opened wide in fear until my Mom loudly chided my father for scaring all of us.
I guess the first lesson learned from that experience was that pastors have a weird sense of humor.
The more important lesson was learned years later when I found out that Dad had served as a volunteer chaplain at the prison. He wasn’t afraid of the inmates serving out their sentences. They were people just like all the members of his parish, in need of love and care, understanding and compassion, a chance to try again—what we Christians call “gospel.”
When I followed Dad into ministry, I also ended up following him into jails and prisons. I can remember how one of my first prison visits happened when one of my parishioners from the southern part of the state ended up in Waupun. I had never done a prison visit before and was surprised that I had to leave my belt and my umbrella behind. Actually, on my walk to the unit, the rain helped wash away some of my childish fear.
Since then I have visited perhaps fifteen or twenty of my church members in prisons and jails. What I have discovered in my visits are the same kind of people Dad discovered—folks in need of love and care, understanding and compassion, a chance to try again. The old fear is gone and replaced by something else, a sense that my pastoral visits are not enough.
How many times have you or I visited someone jailed for a nonviolent drug crime who is waiting months on end for a chance to get into a diversion or rehab program? How many times have you or I shared the frustration of wasted time as a person of worth is simply being warehoused? How many times have you or I felt at least a small measure of the great weight of injustice pressing down on those whose lives and talents are slowly being lost?
One of my favorite passages from scripture occurs in the book of Acts when Paul and Silas are unjustly imprisoned in Philippi. An earthquake comes, undoubtedly by the power of God, to break the chains of the inmates and open wide the prison doors. But Paul and Silas don’t leave; they won’t trade their justice calling for their personal freedom. The jailer is panicked, assuming all the prisoners have escaped and that he will be blamed. He is about to harm himself when Paul announces, “We are still here.”
That’s our message this morning and this day. That’s our message to our legislators and to our inmates, to our churches and to our prisons. We aren’t afraid anymore. And we are still here.
Asking for justice, working for hope, we are still here. Demanding an end to the warehousing of people and the wasting of lives, we are still here.
Concerned for the safety of our communities and convinced that we have been given a better way, we are still here.
People of faith, united for justice, across the state, across beliefs, and across generations, we are still here.
We aren’t afraid anymore and we are still here.
Reflection by Rabbi Dena Feingold
Excerpt from Reflection by Rabbi Dena Feingold at the WISDOM Retreat Jan. 19, 2012
Paragraph 6:8. For full content of reflection: Dena Feingold WISDOM Reflection
“In the Torah portion, Moses is tasked with convincing not only Pharaoh, but also the enslaved Israelites, that the time for the exodus is at hand. We are very familiar with Pharaoh’s reply: Seven of the ten plagues are brought to Egypt in this week’s scriptural reading, and 7 times the Pharaoh says “no” to Moses’ demand: “Let My people Go.” More important for our purposes, however, is the slaves’ response to Moses suggestion that their freedom is at hand. In Chapter 6 of Exodus, after Moses relays all of God’s promises: about the chastisements that will be brought uponEgypt; that God will be with them; that God will take them out and bring them to their ancestral homeland, the people still do not listen. Why can’t they hear this message?
The text tells us that “their spirits (were) crushed by cruel bondage.” (Ex 6:9) Weighted down by powerlessness, confinement and cruel treatment, the enslaved Israelites are described in Hebrew as exhibiting “kotzer ruach”— translated here as a crushed spirit. A commentary on this verse uses the plain meaning of the word “kotzer” to redefine the phrase, as “shortness of spirit” or “their spirits were stunted.” The word “spirit” is interpreted here as spiritual and psychic energy. So, the idea is that the people were so beaten down by their slavery that they lacked the “spiritual and psychic energy that motivates action. Its absence or diminishment indicates loss of will.” (Etz Hayim Torah commentary, p. 353).
This description could easily be applied to prisoners who need treatment for mental illness or substance abuse. Due to their underlying issues, many in this population are lacking the will, the psychic and spiritual energy, to rise up in protest to their own mistreatment by a society that imprisons them rather than providing the treatment they need… ”
Reflection by Rev. David Anderson
Excerpt from Reflection by Rev. David Anderson at WISDOM Retreat Jan 19, 2012. Paragraph 6:9 For full content of the reflection: Rev Anderson Wisdom 11×15 Reflection
“The “fairness” of retributive justice seems simple and clear, but a number of questions need to be asked:
First, does returning offenders to society “worse off” really help anyone? Besides some vague notion that a balance has been restored, does returning a person to society “worse off” help the person? Is society somehow better off? Or does it just introduce a new imbalance into the social order?
Second, when “justice is done” does the victim really feel any better? If something precious has been taken from the victim does he or she really have a sense that it’s now okay with them because a penalty has been imposed on someone else? With retributive justice what has really been “fixed?”
Third, for me this might be the most important question, where does the impulse to return harm for harm come from? Does it really come from our sharing God’s passion for justice? Or does it come from somewhere more primal and primitive; a dark place to which civilized and compassionate people should not appeal? Is retributive justice divinely sanctioned or is it simply a base desire to harm the other because we can?
Fourth, is fair and balanced, really fair and balanced? Solomon’s proposal calls into question the very notion that justice is necessarily done with the weight of half a baby on each side of the scale. It begs the question of whether there can be an abstract justice that operates apart from the individuals in a conflict. It calls us to a justice that attends to individual circumstances and weighs the stories and the needs of the people involved. The story of Solomon and the Prostitute’s Baby serves as a call to see justice in a more global context: as Solomon begged the question what is good for the child—we are called to look beyond simple retribution and ask what is good for the whole community—what will build our life together, offender, victim, and community?”
Reflection by Rev. Willie Brisco
Excerpt from Reflection by Rev. Willie Brisco at WISDOM Retreat January 19, 2012. Paragraph 6:8. For full content of reflection: Rev. W Brisco WISDOM 11×15 Reflection
“While working there [House of Correction] I met some of the best artist, mathematicians, electricians, poets, lawyers, musicians, writers, and laborers that no one has ever heard of. I saw professional portraits drawn with colored pencils, I saw a cassette player turned into a tattoo machine, I saw legal papers drawn up and sent to court that any law firm would be proud of, I saw payphones manipulated to allow free long distance calling. All this talent that society had disposed of was going to waste because no one is willing to take a stand and say what we have been doing in this country in regards to incarceration and corrections has not worked for hundreds of years and is not working now. We have taken on the mindset that a portion of our population is disposable.
I will now bring forth the message that will reflect my chosen topic for my reflection. It is taken from the Book of 1Corinthians 13 and is titled, “What’s Love Got to do With it”. Though the inspiration comes from scripture I must give proper credit to the R&B artist Tina Turner for the title.
The Greatest Gift
1Corinthians 13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love , it profits me nothing..”
The Rev. Dr. Matthew L. Sauer 11×15 Press Conference Feb. 21, 2012
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the Lord’s reign.
Isaiah 61:1,2, Luke 4:18-19
These words from the 8th century BCE Jewish Prophet, Isaiah were chosen by Jesus as a self-description of his mission. And therefore they have become the mission statement of those who follow Jesus.
It was people of faith seeking to build better communities that brought forth hospitals, rural healthcare, and free clinics. . .
It was people of faith seeking to build better communities that brought forth soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and community centers.
It was people of faith seeking to build better communities that brought forth abolition, and integration, and civil rights.
And today it as people of faith that we gather to proclaim release to the captives. We invite, we urge, we demand safer, healthier, and just communities for ourselves and for our brother and sister citizens of this great state of Wisconsin.
As a faith leader in Manitowoc County I support the goal of the 11 X 15 Campaign for Justice because I believe it continues the historic mission of Christianity, work of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and my personal discipleship.
When incarcerated men and women can be reunited with their families & communities while receiving real rehabilitative services we will be safer, healthier, and more just. When children can be raised in their own homes by their own parents, when families can have their incomes continue and when individuals can get the help they need to overcome addictions and personal demons we all win because we will be a safer, healthier and more just society.
As a faith leader I stand in the tradition of Jesus believing that people should be not simply healed but restored to society, not simply liberated but restored to society, not simply lifted out of poverty but restored to society. Not simply released from prison to offend again but released and treated — restored to society.
The 11 x 15 Campaign for Justice is right for the people of faith and right for the people of Wisconsin.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon us, so let us go and proclaim release to the prisoners!
Rev. Diane Murray Thoughts for the Feb. 21, 2012 News Conference
Today the 11 X 15 Campaign for Healthier and Safer Communities is being launched by RUTH and WISDOM with the goal to reduce our prison population by half to 11,000 by 2015.
This will not be an easy task, but it is a necessary undertaking to be sure. On an election day in many places, it is time that we as a community admit the reality that our criminal justice system is not working the way it was intended. Putting people in prison is a very expensive proposition, which does not stop crime and may indeed create more victims than the original crime for which the person is incarcerated.
We do not seek to merely unlock prison doors and let those who incarcerated go free, but we seek to create a new model of restorative justice that will address the needs of the victims, communities and offenders.
God charges us as a community, to seek to restore relationships when they are broken. Restoration happens when there can be restitution through personal responsibility, accountability for our actions through personal discipline, forgiveness through reconciliation, and fairness through the belief that all people are worthy of redemption.
In the Gospel of Matthew (18:21-35 English Standard Version) we hear
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Crimes committed are injurious to many beyond the immediate crime and many should be involved in the criminal justice process including: the victims, offenders and communities. In our society, the government needs to help preserve order, but we the community, need to be responsible for helping establish restorative justice.
There assuredly needs to be punishment for crimes, but this can come in a variety of ways rather than merely incarcerating some of those who commit the crimes.
Restorative justice understands the need to protect society from violent, habitual criminals. Restorative justice also believes that other offenders could address their crimes through a variety of restorative sanctions. We need to establish ways to repair the damage done to victims and communities by crime. We need to find ways to minimize the number of victims resulting from crimes. We need to find ways that offenders can become whole self-respecting, productive members of society.
On behalf of RUTH in Manitowoc and WISDOM statewide I call upon those involved in the criminal justice system and those of us livening in our communities to develop legislation and programs to bring about restoration of the broken relationships caused by crime and to end the senseless incarceration that has no hope of restoring right relationships.