Today I was honored to walk alongside some of the pastors in Albany Presbytery who have made prison reform a signature part of their ministry and Christian witness and who invited me to join them today for a lobby day. We joined with hundreds of others from around the State. Members of Hudson River and Utica Presbyteries also joined us. Today was also the Farm Worker lobby day and many of us also participated in that experience. We stand beside Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) policy language that supports and undergirds both of these issues we were invited to advocate for.
Today was a reminder of why we do advocacy as Christians, it is our opportunity to be hands and feet for Jesus and to practice accompaniment which to me is the most sacred of Christian practices. I had the chance to do some lobby visits with a group of people that included a woman whose nephew is in solitary confinement.
My reflection below is about meeting her and hearing her family’s story.
She sat next to me trembling.
Her body was shaking and she was holding back the tears.
She had just offered her story, her truth.
For the zillionth time today.
She was tired, exhausted.
Coming to visit lawmakers for the first time ever.
Offering public testimony at the press conference for the first time ever.
Giving a TV interview for the first time ever.
Telling about her beloved nephew
Who is 32
Been in jail since he was 19
No money for a lawyer
They said he killed someone
But the evidence says something else.
He had a public defender,
“We have no money.”
She said to me, shrugging her shoulders.
“So that’s what we get.”
Something happened to her nephew
Unrelated to his “crime.”
He is now in solitary confinement.
20-23 hours a day in box.
Food through the door.
100%. In. The. Box.
She told me more:
“I go to visit him
once a month.
The bus leaves the Bronx at 10:30PM
We arrive at the jail at 6:30AM.
I get 7 hours with him.
I reach into the little box open in the plexiglass
I read to him from the Bible
I tell him about God
I pray with him
I talk to him
I squish food through the slots from
the vending machines.
As I walk down the aisle I
Walk by the other ‘plexiglass people’
Standing there, staring, vacant eyes
Wishing someone was there to see them.
I try to keep him as well as possible.
But he is in for 25 years to life.
Sentenced at 19 years old.
His eyes move back and forth
He has been so isolated from people
He cannot relate any longer.
Little noises make him jump.
It is like someone you love
Drowning in a pool
And there is no way to help them
And instead you watch.
As their humanity goes away.
And then after 7 hours in the jail with him
And the plexiglass
It is another 8 hours back to the Bronx.
I do that once a month.
I’m the only one in my family who can.”
So I and four other women
Walked the halls of the State House
She told her story.
A few more times.
Did they hear?
Did they even imagine what it took for her to be there?
The fear and tears
The incredible fear?
I don’t think they noticed she was shaking
She was shaking on the couch right next to me.
No one ever asked her for the name
Of her beloved nephew.
But no one did.
Shame on them.
I was honored to accompany her today
To be church with her today
To talk to her about Jesus today.
To hear her tell me
That she believes that Jesus is with her
and her nephew and that she is
Staying close to that.
To tell her I would pray for her nephew.
I mean it.
To hold her in my arms with a hug.
To ask about her life.
To meet her
To know her a little bit.
We exchanged phone numbers.
That is his name.
He is 32.
Been in jail since he was 19.
353 miles from home.
In a box.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.