by: Stephen Phelps on November 11th, 2013 | Comments Off
Text: Isaiah 58: 1-9; Luke 12: 54-59
Forty years ago, in the wake of the rebellion at Attica Prison, Rev. Robert Polk of the Riverside clergy founded the Riverside Prison Ministry. Throughout this past weekend, the Prison Ministry has been celebrating this anniversary by anchoring a year-long campaign to bring light and change to life-destroying parole practices in this state and in this society.
Forty-one years ago, in response to that rebellion at Attica, a Rochester man named Steere began a ministry at Attica prison. It still goes on. Volunteers and men inside join each week in a conversation about one thing only, what it is like to be in your own skin, with your own burdens, and how you learn from it. From what I learned and experienced during ten years with that program, I have brought you a number of things over the years.
Forty years of ministry is a good thing. But let’s let that number, “forty years,” seep into our skin alongside the ancient scriptures we have just heard, for our societies haven’t much to show for long exposure to the word of God; and in these United States, the last forty years have looked more like years of wilderness wandering with no Moses and no true law at all. Since those terrible days at Attica, the criminal American justice system has multiplied its prison population sixfold, from 350,000 to more than two million. Those being watched by parole and probation exceed five million men and women. They are blocked from public housing or help with the price of food. “The box” blocks them from working. It’s that box on employment applications – “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” States block the formerly incarcerated from voting, ever, as if to say you will never have a place among us. It seems that society aims to destroy them.