Loving our incarcerated neighbor

To the editor:

The fact that inmates are being included in the next round of stimulus checks makes me happy. Treating inmates with dignity, respect and kindness in general makes me happy as a public theologian and Christian.

I do not presume that everybody has the same faith system as I or that they understand where I draw this belief. In my faith’s tradition, we believe that when we care for those who are sick and visit those who are in prison or clothe the naked, it is as if we are doing these things for God personally. Christian tradition has it that Jesus gave this charge to his followers personally (Matthew 25:36). If the reader was to take the first five favorite Bible characters they think of, it’s certain at least one of those figures was incarcerated. For the last 2,000 years, caring for the incarcerated has been a sacred task carried out by millions throughout the millennia who all believe that human life and the soul have value regardless of restriction or incarceration. From a faith perspective, incarceration is a necessary evil alongside war. Poverty and medical expenses do not fall into this category because they don’t need to exist, but do because they make money for select groups of people.

Ideally we would see those in state-mandated bondage as loved neighbors whom we eagerly wait to embrace once more. We would befriend their families remembering them on the outside, and the transformation from criminal to “good neighbor” would be natural.

This theology in relation to the “American Rescue Plan”: While it is true that money does not buy happiness, for those who are down for years at a time in jail, $1,400 can go a long way, as it does for the rest of us. More than the financial security, it lets those in prison know that they are still members of our society who have value regardless of the stigma that society has thrown them out. Those who feel abandoned by a society will have no problem lashing out against it, but a society that abandons people regardless of who they are earn that resentment. I am glad that we as a society have signaled to these neighbors of ours that we have not forgotten them and that they are deserving of care, respect and an invitation to redemption.

As we enter into the Easter season, I invite people regardless of faith affiliation to consider that the greatest acts of love are those that are charitable — that all of us live and thrive because we have received love when found wanting and not deserving. Being compassionate in any form invests a love that lifts others up and creates a better kinder reality for everybody. While $1,400 cannot replace time lost with loved ones or the joy of liberty, it does send a signal to people that we care about them and that they are still given the room to have dignity and respect all people deserve.

Garth Harlow Olsen

Saranac Lake


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