Returning Citizens - October 2017 JPIC Reflection

Returning Citizens 

Peace and All Good ! I have been asked to resume the position of Regional JPIC coordinator and am pleased to be able to continue to share some of the wealth of information my attendance at the National JPIC meetings gave me. One topic which we discussed and which was interesting was that of the Returning Citizen , people who had been incarcerated and who were then released. The wording of this was surprising to me and seemed to reflect the very graciousness of our Seraphic Father St. Francis. 

We learned about their efforts in the Mid West at the JPIC gathering , how they provided clothes suitable for going on a job interview, etc. , but my question to the Region is how will we address this topic here at home ? My initial essay was going to be built on what my research  had shown me, namely that there are almost 2.2 million people incarcerated in the U.S. and we lead the world in number of people incarcerated per capita. One out of every 28 children in the U.S. has  an incarcerated parent.  Of those who are now on parole on released on probation, 43% will be re arrested within one year. This topic can spin  off in many areas and I will be exploring those over the next few months. 

But as I was initially going to fill this with facts about ” those people” a few things happened which knocked my socks off and made this topic very real to me. The first was when I was watching the news and saw that the boy down the street allegedly committed a murder. This was a boy who had graduated with my son less than three years ago. His parents were den leaders with us. He was a football star. His two brothers and his father are police men. These kids went to Catholic school. They live a block from me. This is my problem. 

Then I was still doing research and looking at a website about this kind of  work in New York with Returning Citizens and I saw my best friend’s niece in a picture carrying a banner at a rally in the City for Returning Citizens. I called my best friend who said that her sister would not say anything about Petra , actually for the last few years, other than to say that she was fine. But we now know that Petra had been in jail. My friend would not say anything to her sister about it but I thought “Wow, this was a girl that had stayed with me one summer. I know her and her whole family. We were close. ” This is no longer an abstraction. These issues now have names for me. Petra and Tommy. It is my problem.  

Isn’t it true that we always think it is someone else’s problem. I am reminded of John Donne’s poem “For Whom the Bell Tolls ” in the line “Do not send to know for whom the bell tolls , it tolls for thee. ” and again in the play Miss Saigon referencing the Ameri Asian children born in Viet Nam after the war : “They’re called BUI Doi, the dust of life conceived in hell and born in strife …They are the living reminder of all the good we failed to do … We can’t forget, Must not forget … 

Because we know deep in our hearts that they are all our children too. ” And my point is this : We often don’t care what happens in our world until it comes home to us. We forget that we all come from One Creator and all bleed red and are part of one family.  

In closing, I want to share the writing of a prominent Protestant Pastor , Martin Niemoller (1892-1984) who emerged as a critic of Adolf Hitler but whose words are still relevant: 

“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out- Because I was not a Socialist. 

Then they came for the Trade Unionists , and I did not speak out-Because I was not a Trade Unionist. 

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – 

Because I was not a Jew . 

Then they came for me- and there was no one left to speak for me. “ 

Certainly, there have been various different versions of this piece, but my point is we become complicit through our silence about social justice issues and we must begin to embrace all of the Poor Ones, the Anawim, (Hebrew word that means, “the poor who depend on the Lord for deliverance) starting now. Their issues must become our issues. If not, do we not commit collectively the sin of omission ? 

Kathleen Agosto, OFS 

JPIC Regional Coordinator 




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