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Is it time to “rethink” our views on the “Others?”

Dear friends,

One otherwise unremarkable day I was waiting for a train at Downtown Crossing. You don’t see a lot of business suits on the T nowadays, so I wasn’t terribly surprised to be asked this question by a kindly-looking older woman: “Are you a lawyer?” Yes, I replied, a little warily. (Lawyers are often asked for free advice by perfect strangers.) “Do you represent criminals?” Uh oh, I thought to myself, but I answered the question truthfully, “yes, I do.” “How can you live with yourself?” she said, and walked away before I could spit out an answer.

That conversation, which lasted less than a minute, took place several years ago, but it stuck with me. And if I were given the opportunity to converse further with her, I would gently challenge the way she framed her question. Instead of asking me if I represented persons accused of crimes, she had said “criminals.” She had reduced the complex,

wounded human beings I represent in court every day to a pejorative category.

Tomorrow, and on Sunday May 12, your Senior Warden and I will be presenting two forums on criminal justice issues. When we all affirmed our baptismal vows at the Easter Vigil, we once again pledged to seek and serve Christ in all persons, strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. I can’t think of a better way to test our commitment to these principles than to talk and learn about the most marginalized human beings in modern American society: the incarcerated.

For our first session tomorrow, we will hear from Mr. Sam Williams, the executive director of Concord Prison Outreach. (Trinity is a longtime supporter of CPO through both grants and hands-on volunteering.) Mr. Williams is himself a formerly incarcerated person who was able to earn college degrees while in prison through Boston University. We will hear about CPO’s work in multiple prisons and jails in Eastern Massachusetts, and Mr. Williams will also be glad to talk about his personal experiences on both sides of the wall.

Next Sunday, May 12, David Weiss and I will present a learning session on the reasons that people get in trouble with the law, what happens to them once they are in the system, the multiple challenges they face when they get out, and why all of us should care.

When I was growing up in the Seventies, I would watch “Dragnet” while my mom was fixing supper. At the end of every episode, Sergeant Joe Friday, played by Jack Webb, would take some wrongdoer (in my memory, usually a guy with long hair!) off the street. The bad guys

were always portrayed as “Others,” as people very much outside the mainstream of society and not deserving of much consideration.

To prepare for our meeting with Mr. Williams, I would ask you to think about the ways that the language we use, and the entertainment we consume (such as Dragnet but there are many other examples), have dehumanized people who get entangled in the criminal justice system. And if you have a regular prayer practice, please remember incarcerated persons in your intercessions for all those who are in “trouble, sorrow, need, sickness or any other adversity.”


Robert Christian, Intern for the Diaconate

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