Earlier today, Pope Francis arrived in Washington, D.C. to begin a week-long visit to the United States. In addition to visits to the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and the 9-11 Memorial in New York City, Pope Francis will also visit the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia.
In advance of the Pontiff’s visit, Prison Fellowship asked friends and supporters to write a short note to Pope Francis to express appreciation for the compassion he has shown to those affected by crime, and to encourage him to raise the issue of criminal justice reform when he speaks to Congress on Thursday, September 24. Here is just a sampling of the letters received.
Dear Holy Father, I care about restorative justice because all people are made in the image and likeness of God. I have coworkers with records who are just as smart and just as capable of understanding the Gospel. I live in America where as many people go to jail as people go to college. The system isn’t just because my brother committed similar crimes but got rehab and an expunged record because my family has means to know the judge and afford good legal aid. This second chance approach should be what everyone gets. Please rebuke America for her injustice! The warehousing of America’s poor, and the bureaucratic system that favors the rich must be ripped down to the studs and built anew. Laws need to be clear and punishments consistent and aimed at rehabilitation. The mentally ill need mental health treatment: not bad company that corrupts. Thieves need to learn how to make honest work with their hands: not rot in cells. Grace and Peace!
Martie (Oklahoma, prior conviction)
Please lend your voice to those have made mistakes, have served the sentence justice demanded, have repented been forgiven, and yet remain unable to move forward. If indeed our society calls for rehabilitation and remediation, the roadblocks put before those with a conviction in their past are unnecessary. This is not the case; our court system has made it judgment yet society continues to judge by denying housing, jobs, access to aid and healthcare. Help our leaders here in the US understand what restorative justice can mean for individuals so that they may grow to learn what it can mean for the world. Thank you for your visit; may it provide you with the Lord’s peace and love as it will us.
David (Indiana, pastor and prison volunteer, family has been victim of crime)
Your Holiness, As I have written in previous letters, the undersigned has dedicated the rest of his life to prison ministry. The criminal justice system in the United States is totally dysfunctional and in desperate need of complete restructuring and reform. In your address to Congress, I urge you to comment on this urgent need. I cannot overstate the fact that this is the most important issue in this country. The answer to this crisis is, of course, in Scripture. It is Jesus’ message that we must replace the punishment motive with a goal of healing. God expects us to help turn lives around. While it is easy to get discouraged in prison ministry, God continues to provide encouragement. Today I received a letter from a prisoner in South Dakota. The letter, in its entirety, reads, “When I was in prison, you visited me. Thank you.” In turn, thank you, your Holiness, for visiting our incarcerated brothers and sisters.
Melissa (New York, family member incarcerated, family has been victim of crime)
Please include criminal justice reform in your address to Congress. Restorative justice is necessary and important to me because I want to see my dad provided with the services he needs rather than sitting in a cell becoming more depressed. I want to know that he is OK and being taken care of rather than all of the burden falling on his family. Reentry programming is crucial to stopping the revolving door of recidivism and actually supporting people’s efforts for change. Many people who come out of prison are willing and ready to work but there are so many barriers and stereotypes that hold them back and send them back to prison. If prison is not a place of restoration and rehabilitation, then what is the point?
Russell (California, family has been victim of crime)
Dear Pope Francis, I write in support of restorative justice. I am the father of the victim, that has met my son’s killer and forgiven him face to face. It is the reason that my family is still intact. Faith and the call to forgive is essential to any system of justice to work as God intended. I hope you will stress that our system is often unable to battle the forces that would like all offenders to never see freedom. Faith, hope, and love are core to any justice system that also see mercy as part of the whole picture.
Charles (Louisiana, current prisoner)
Pope Francis, I am a prisoner in Louisiana and have been for the past 38+ years. I came here at a very young age. I was 17 at the time. I am not writing you for sympathy. I am only asking your prayers and help by your divine influence as such a holy and loving man of God.Myself, as well as MANY other men here, are lost up in a system of not necessarily justice but a system of vindictiveness from people who would rather take a problem and simply throw it away to be forgotten rather than try to figure out the problem and resolve it in a humane and God fearing way. It is so easy to make something disappear rather than face it and make it better, as Jesus taught us to do. I am guilty of taking a man’s life. However,the manner in which it happened was in no way malicious or planned out. I did it out of fear and confusion. At the present a case is before the United States Supreme Court to be heard on retroactivity of a case which we are hoping will be applied to those of us found guilty of homicide under the age of 18. We would be given a chance at consideration toward a second chance at freedom if they rule this case is to be applied retroactively. As it stands, it is not, here in Louisiana. I ask your prayers and perhaps your respected input to the courts to urge a second chance not only for people such as me but ALL lifers and practical LIFERS who have been thrown away and forgotten about. All people are redeemable in the eyes of our almighty Father. Why not so in our fellow man? I am a Roman Catholic from birth.But I am a Christian by choice. I ask you with all respect to help us in whatever way you can. May God bless you and keep you forever in His divine favor.
Maurenne (Kansas, family member incarcerated)
My 22 year old daughter, a first time offender, is serving a 20 year federal sentence 700 miles from home. Her crime and her punishment have brought great anguish to our family. I turned my anguish over to God a long time ago and asked him for strength for her and for our family. The only thing that makes sense to me is that prison is where God needs my daughter to be right now in her young life. She is a gifted student and is the only woman in her prison pursuing a college education with her family’s support. She wrote a biology curriculum and taught this class and others at her prison. Despite her youth, she sets the example as a leader and scholar among the inmates at her prison. She is a minimum security inmate who still has 18 years to serve her sentence. She has clearly demonstrated she is both remorseful and rehabilitated, ready to rejoin society. She’d like to make amends through restorative justice but the US DOJ does not offer such an option. Can you help us change this?
Bob (Florida, volunteer and pastor)
For over 2 years I have been teaching on a weekly basis in one of Florida’s prisons. I have seen firsthand what the Gospel can do in prisoners lives. What a joy to be a part of that sowing and reaping. After working with many of them, I also am also aware of the challenges and frustrations they face upon release. They have paid their debt to society and yet society still exacts a continuing penalty after their release. Please contribute whatever effort you can to assisting us in bringing more restorative justice to prisoners in our system in the United States. May God richly bless you as you seek to be a blessing to others.
Dolores (North Carolina, family member incarcerated)
My stepson is in a Federal prison in the State of California and should be released within the next two years. At the age of 50, with spotty work and credit records, it will be difficult for him to transition to life outside the prison walls. After serving time, during which he came to faith in Christ, having a re-entry support system will be of great value in helping him stay out of trouble. I would appreciate it if you will encourage the Congress of the United States to support nationwide re-entry programs. This issue matters to me because of my husband’s son, but also as a citizen who wants to feel more secure knowing that ex-offenders returning to the community will be helped to refrain from returning to life of crime. My prayers are with you, and thank you for giving thought to these concerns.