Justice… AND Mercy

Here below is something ‘Dear Abby’ has to say today to a person just coming out of the prison system.

Do you know anyone in the prison system? I had student once, a blue-eyed fair-skinned boy who at age 22 or so began serving what I believe ended up being a 30 year sentence on a second-degree murder charge, for an act he has no memory of committing. (He had been taking a very dangerous drug that caused hallucinations.)

During his time in prison he had a religious awakening and married a lovely woman with similar religious beliefs… He asked me to write a letter for him and come to his parole hearing which I did.H e was denied.

I visited him in his minimum security facility at a time when the state gave work permits. He himself worked, selling high-end cars at a well-established dealership, and he went home to his wife once a month for the weekend. Then a prisoner who was also serving a murder charge here went off on this weekend furlough program, failed to return and ten months later committed a violent crime in Maryland. Much criticism was directed toward the then-governor of my state and in the end all weekend furloughs and work permits were cancelled.

My former student was so hopeful in the first twelve years of his imprisonment. That didn’t last.

I have lost touch with him and also his wife and mother by now, though I look for them in all the usual ways we can now look. I suppose he is out – I hope he is out – and pursuing the quiet life he always dreamed of having, even when he sat in my classroom so long ago

Anyway here is someone’s letter to Abby, which she answers in her signature merciful fashion.

There are two sides to every story I know, but must there not be something wrong in our country, which has only 5% of the world’s population but nearly one-quarter of the entire world’s inmates.

DEAR ABBY: My life has always been scary. My parents divorced when I was 3. Dad always seemed to cause trouble for Mom, who struggled to provide for me and my older sister. She always struggled with alcohol and drugs. I have spent a portion of my life incarcerated, starting when I was a teenager. I’m now 22 and doing time for selling drugs. I have never been able to find a decent job, although I have my GED and tried to attend a school for nursing, but I screwed it up. Selling drugs seemed to be the only way to make enough to support myself.

I’d like to find a decent job with opportunity, and be able to pay my bills and save a little. I’m tired of my crazy lifestyle and want to    settle down. How can I go about finding a job? Keep in mind, I don’t have a resume and although I have had many jobs, I never stayed very long, and I have a criminal record. — SERVING TIME IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR SERVING TIME: I admire that you have decided to change your life and walk the “straight and narrow” from now on. A place to start would be to talk to the prison chaplain. Some religious denominations have programs in place to help inmates and former inmates successfully transition back into society.

The oldest prison/re-entry group in the country is the Pennsylvania Prison Society. Their website is at prisonsociety.org. If they don’t serve the community into which you will be released, they will know an organization that does. Their re-entry program helps former prisoners attain self-sufficiency through a four-day job readiness workshop which teaches the skills necessary to find and keep a job. Pre-registration is recommended, and their phone number is 215-564-6005, ext. 117.

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