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Standing with Prisoners: A Time to Heal

Our role as Church is to give witness to God's love for all peoples. But God's incarcerated children? I believe so. This can be a very enriching ministry. One can see the work of the Lord and be strengthened by it. It is one of the gifts that people usually don't expect when stepping foot into the jail. I am there to witness to the power and love of a God who lives among us. There is probably no place on earth where more people are searching for the presence of God in their lives. Certainly, I can think of no other place where there are so many Bibles, so many trying to experience God. The jail can be a very spiritual place.

But I also hear the question that has been put to me so many times, "What about the victim?" And yet, the person sitting for years in jail, innocent under law, is also very much the victim. But, understanding that, raising the question, "what about the victim?" is a valid concern. As a Church, we need to reach out to all who suffer. As a Church we need to try to give witness to God's power to heal, God's willingness to heal. As a member of a religious community dedicated to the Precious Blood, I believe in the power of the blood to heal. I believe in the power of Christ-victim. I believe that Christ, being the ultimate victim, can heal the pain of one who has suffered. I believe, too, that the blood of Christ, given for our offenses, offers forgiveness to the one who asks. That stands radically in the face of our criminal justice system.

I have always thought reconciliation involved bringing the two together: the victim and the one who has caused the suffering. But in a jail setting, this goes against the grain of things. In the courts as well as in the jail, there is little concern for healing. For the most part it is physically and legally impossible to bring the victim together with the one accused outside the battle lines of the courtroom. It is obvious that often times there is more than one victim. The vast majority of those incarcerated in our jails are themselves victims of violence. There is also the reality of being victimized by the criminal justice system. It is a difficult thing to see the clear lines between victim and the accused. It can be very tempting, in light of the injustice of a system that overlooks the dignity of a person, to disregard the very existence of another victim. But, of course, it would be dishonest to do so. Certainly honesty is a prerequisite if ever there is to be healing. Part of that honesty is recognizing my pain, in this case the pain of the incarcerated, but also recognizing the pain of the victim. In both cases it is not something that happens overnight. There are times when sorrow is immediate --realizing the pain caused to another. But there are times, too, when the accused needs to first come to terms with all that is happening to him or her.

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