January 21, 2022

Corrections Corner / Fr. Jeremy King, O.S.B.

Don’t look back unless you want to right wrongs

Fr. Jeremy King, O.S.B.Last February, I wrote a column for this space and began it as follows:

“Well, it is now February of 2021. January, the first month of the year, has 31 days, and is named after the two-faced Roman god Janus who is always imaged looking both forward and backward. After our experiences of 2020, not many of us wanted to look back, but the events of this past month have caused mixed emotions of how 2021 was starting off.”

When I wrote the column, we had just experienced the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

We recently experienced the first anniversary of that event, what many consider an attack on democracy.

On that occasion, President Joe Biden spoke to the nation with great passion and laid out very clearly his stance on what took place a year before. Unfortunately, many are of the opinion that this year is not the beginning of the end but the first of many commemorations and/or anniversaries of the event; another day like Dec. 7, 1941, Nov. 22, 1963, and Sept. 11, 2001.

As of this past Jan. 6, 725 people have been arrested for storming the

U.S. Capitol building, with charges ranging from obstruction of an official to assault. A significant number of rioters are still awaiting sentencing.

So far, the median prison sentence of defendants is 45 days. Others have been sentenced to home detention, fines and community service and probation and there’s more to come. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that the actions taken so far by the Department of Justice will not be the last. The perpetrators will be held accountable. We will have to wait and see.

What does all this mean to those of us who try to minister to less notorious men and women in the federal, state, city and county incarceration facilities within our archdiocese? Looking back is a necessary exercise when we want to evaluate what has happened. And until we understand all the factors that go into an event, we will probably not make much headway looking ahead in the process of finding solutions.

The circumstances of any crime are most often complicated by what the perpetrator understood to be the realities of the situation. If actions are based on false information, as some say of the Capitol rioters, then who bears the responsibility?

Many of those we minister to in prisons and jails were born into families that were marred by “false information” and “lies.” Many of them never had a chance to experience the reality of anything but deception and turmoil.

Some of our past and current leaders are referring to the Jan. 6 protestors as “patriots” who were doing nothing more than trying to “right a wrong.”

Is it possible that some of our currently incarcerated sisters and brothers acted out of frustration with the systems that lead them to extreme actions? Let’s work together to right the wrongs we can.

(Benedictine Father Jeremy King is a member of the archdiocese’s Corrections Advisory Committee, and is a frequent visiting chaplain in the Indiana Department of Correction.) †

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