One of the icons of Advent is John the Baptist: The Voice in the Wilderness, crying out, “Repent and be saved!” Yes, we all are in need of penitence; some of us may even need to go to a place of repentance, a penitentiary. The original meaning of “penitentiary” from the Latin verb, paenitere, to repent, means a place, psychological or physical, to go in order to feel regret for past conduct so as to make a change for the better. A penitentiary was not, then, a place purely for punishment.
Nor even in United States history. The prison system emerging out of the Federal period was, in some ways, built on a moral vision of the human person and society – one that combined a spiritual rekindling with punishment and correction. (See the U.S. Bishops statement, “Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration,”  p. 16.)
This Advent is a good time for us to work on the patience of penitence: real change takes time. Mirror-like, then, it is a time for us to promote the process and programming of restorative justice to take hold in the lives of our sisters and brothers in penitentiaries. May we struggle with quiet resolve to arrive at the attitude of Jesus for all of his sheep when he said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” [John 10:10]
In this December 2011 e-newsletter you will find:
By Fr. George Anderson, S.J.
Capital punishment may be on the wane in the United States, but restorative justice demands its total abolition.
The current drop in the number of those executed stems from an increased willingness on the part of juries to opt for life without parole rather than a death sentence. This shift reflects the work of groups like the U.S. Catholic conference, which pointed out in its 1999 Good Friday Appeal to End the Death Penalty that reliance on the death penalty is a sign of "disrespect for human life."
Moreover, in their 2000 Statement, "Responsibility, Rehabilitation and the Restoration," the U. S. bishops spoke of standing with "the prophetic witness" of Pope John Paul II, who declared capital punishment "both cruel and unnecessary." The Catechism of the Catholic Church itself states that non-lethal means are sufficient to defend people's safety from an aggressor, with such means more in conformity with dignity of the human person. As far back as 1980, the bishops noted, moreover, that the death penalty "extinguished possibilities for reform and rehabilitation."
Read the Full Article on the CMN Website
By John Sage, Founder - Bridges To Life
Nobody can argue that crime is one of our country's most pressing social problems. It destroys the personal well-being of perpetrators and victims alike, and impairs the public safety and financial stability of the entire country. While our country is experiencing massive incarceration, victims remain largely voiceless in the system, and many offenders go on to re-offend, never having found peace and reconciliation.
I founded Bridges To Life (BTL) in 1998 after the brutal and senseless murder of my sister Marilyn. We are a faith-based, non-profit organization based on a restorative justice model that emphasizes the involvement of victims, offenders and the community in the criminal justice system. The mission of Bridges To Life (BTL) is to connect communities to prisons in an effort to reduce the recidivism rate (particularly that resulting from violent crimes), reduce the number of crime victims and enhance public safety. The spiritual mission of Bridges To Life is to minister to victims and offenders in an effort to show them the transforming power of God's love and forgiveness.
Read the Full Article on the CMN Website
Conducted by Sr. Kathie Uhler, OSF - Dec. 6, 2011
Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Greetings, Father Bill! Thank you for agreeing to share some of your experiences, concerns and thoughts about the life of prisoners on death row, the death penalty and the effect of pastoral advocacy for those on "the row."
Rev. Bill Pickard:
Thank you for this opportunity to spread the word about prison ministry and the much misunderstood prisoners on death row. A prison chaplain has to carry out pastoral counseling of the prisoners, as well as advocacy to the wider community about what is learned of prison life. Once entering into this ministry, you really get involved as a pastor, into deep water. It becomes a challenging and a prophetic ministry.
You have spent 26 years as a prison chaplain in the Scranton/Lackawanna County, Pa. penal system. What has it been like as a prison minister to make visits on death row?
The inmates respond more than people think. After celebrating Sunday Mass in the prison, they sign up to see me. It has been very effective also to have the bishop (of the Diocese of Scranton, Pa.) come for holy days and Christmas. In the one-on-one visits I have found amazing trust and rapport. I find out that there is so much going on. Advocating for the inmates is very important. Three Pennsylvania prisons are being investigated by the Federal Government, and several officers have been indicted for alleged civil rights abuses. Statistics are important, but telling the stories of the inmates educates the public. Education brings on enlightenment and moral outrage.
Read the Full Interview on the CMN Website
By Dale S. Recinella
Years ago in the streets of Tallahassee, the itinerant mentally ill taught me a tremendous lesson. As payee for several of them, I handled their government disability funds. Most of the meager monthly amount went for rent, utilities and food. But it was possible to save some for Christmas. I had expected them to joyfully splurge on themselves in a Christmas shopping binge.
"What would you like to do with your Christmas money?” I had asked one of my charges, a tall man in his mid-50s who had been no different from any of us "normal" people until a physical brain injury in an accident. He paused thoughtfully, pushing out his left cheek with his tongue.
"Ya know," he looked down shyly, rubbing his ear as he spoke, "Since I gotten sick, I've never been able to buy any presents for my friends."
Read the Full Reflection on the CMN Website
By Sr. Kathie Uhler, OSF
Death row for many there is enforced isolation, with just one hour out of the cell each day. The cell in most cases is described as the size of a bathroom, indeed there is always an open steel toilet, along with the bed, chair and small table. Some cells on the row have a small window, others do not. One condemned to this existence has to face it and deal with it. Some lose their grip on reality and, ironically, this may become a means for their escape from isolation – through a commuted sentence to life without parole due to insanity.
Somehow other persons living on death row find deep within themselves resources that enable them to live on. They become contemplative through the silence; and some express their insights through creative writing and poetry. This article, the first in a series, is about two such poets from death row.
Reginald Sinclair Lewis (pictured) is a widely published, award-winning African-American poet, essayist and playwright soon to be released from Pennsylvania's death row at SCI-Graterford penitentiary. His death penalty has been commuted to a life sentence, with appeals still open. Reginald's poetry often relates painful childhood memories. In this poem, he recalls his little sister, her battle with cancer later on and an old, poignant Christmas memory.
Read the Full Article on the CMN Website
December 18: CMN's Dale Recinella will speak at 7 p.m. at the RCIA - Faith and Justice, San Jose Catholic Church, Parish Community Center, 3619 Toledo Road Jacksonville, Fla. Following the presentation, copies of Dale’s new book, Now I Walk on Death Row, will be available for purchase and book signing. For information contact Deacon Paul Consbruck at the parish office, (904) 733-1630.
December 19: CMN's Dale Recinella will speak at 7 p.m. at the St. Joseph's Parish Men's Club, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Cody Enrichment Center, 4152 Loretto Road, Jacksonville, Fla. Open to all men of the parish. Following the presentation, copies of Dale’s new book, Now I Walk on Death Row, will be available for purchase and book signing. For information contact Kevin O'Neill, President of the St. Joseph's Men's Club, (904) 738-2801 or email@example.com.
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