Raise the Level

Two years ago my church, in particular my priest, was fighting hard for hot meals for the inmates at our county jail. Up to that time the best they got was sandwiches, made with stale bread and what in only the loosest term possible can be called meat, such as bologna.

This wasn’t Oscar-Meyer bologna. It was institutional, and the packaging revealed it was a “meat substitute” just as the cheese used was a “dairy substitute.” This sandwich filler cracked and crumbled when you bent it. It was like eating cardboard.

Woman in jailInstitutionalization is intended to be separation from society, not a series of debilitating punishments that can affect your health and mental state for life. With that in mind, we sought to bring our local jail to its senses and feed the inmates something edible. Not gourmet meals, not specialty food, simply something edible.

Shockingly, we received intense and harsh criticism from the community.  My favorite was this, written in a review on our Facebook page: “these people should stop trying to change the world and focus on the Gospel instead.”

For anyone reading this not familiar with the Christian gospels, they tell of a Christ who reached out to the thieves and prostitutes around him, down to his dying moments. He didn’t say, “they committed a crime. They deserve whatever happens to them in there” as thousands in our community told us, in writing.

I recognize that different denominations and congregations practice their faith differently than I do. That diversity in beliefs and priorities creates tension as well as reasoned debate, and I won’t tout my beliefs as the Absolute Truth. But I do believe condemning someone to abuse and cruelty because they committed a crime is not a godly plan.

And malnourishment is abusive, to the mind and the body. I’m proud to say the Sheriff eventually relented and the jail now serves two hot meals a day, in addition to a cold breakfast. (Breakfast, it should be noted, was always a fairly decent meal in that jail.) When they make sack lunches for inmates on a work detail, it’s usually peanut butter and jelly, which I’m told (for jail food) is pretty good, too.

We now have a new sheriff who is quietly making improvements in what is known as the “worst jail in the state.” Previous sheriffs took pride in that designation. He doesn’t. He is raising the level in his jail, demanding the inmates be treated in a humane manner, knowing that ultimately, society benefits from such behavior.

Hope and Freedom sm2Eventually most inmates will be back among us, and if they come out of jail beaten down and emotionally battered, their ability to function well in their community is severely compromised.

If you commit a crime, you should pay the appropriate price. But jails are inherently bad places to be. We don’t need to take steps to make them worse.

Photo Credits: © Bigstock.com

17 Replies to “Raise the Level”

  1. The inmates at my prisons came to our Gavel Club meetings after chow. Some inhaled their food so they could attend the meetings. Others went to the canteen and came to the meetings with ‘supper’ which consisted of a bag of chips or some prepackaged cookies, which they all said was so much better than the food that was being served. Only one inmate protested when we wanted to start the meeting earlier (at my Tuesday night club) because he would miss the chicken that was a Tuesday staple. The other inmates looked at him like he was nuts. Hooray for the sheriff for acting human.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I didn’t know much about this topic and found it very touching. Belinda, I heartily agree with you! Wow, what a difference a person who cares can make. Thank you for writing this and illuminating such an important issue.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I agree.
    I never knew of this, I don’t know how it is in UK prisons and jails.
    Human kindness is so very important. Maybe a prisoner will be touched by this and turn their life around? And, even if no one is inspired to turn their life around, it is still the RIGHT thing to do.
    Your church sounds brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, it is the right thing to do. We have a jail ministry at our church and have found most inmates want to turn things around, but for many it’s really difficult. Any help that we can give them may make the difference. You just never know.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I agree with your post. We (society) need to set a good example for inmates as an instructive means for positive change. It won’t work for everyone, but neither will breaking a person’s spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This broke my heart…every human being deserves a chance. We are human by how we show and share our humanity. As for the church goers and holier than thou crusaders, leave them to God and continue doing the awesome Job you and your team are doing

    Liked by 1 person

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