I am a hospice chaplain. It isn’t my job to convert my patients to my religious vision. I meet them where they are, which is never a good place to be. But there they are, and I try to bring a word of comfort. Fortunately, … Continue reading A Repertoire of Repentance
By Alan Bean
The American prison population is rapidly aging. You can find a helpful infographic on the subject here (I have copied the basic information below if you’re in a hurry).
The most shocking statistic is that “between 1981 and 2010, the number of state and federal prisoners age 55 and over increased from 8,853 to 124,900.” And consider this, if present trends continue “that number is projected to grow to 400,000 by 2030, an increase of 4,400 percent from 1981.”
When I think of prisoners aging behind bars I visualize Ramsey Muniz. Ramsey was implicated in a marijuana importation conspiracy in the late 1970s. He wasn’t charged with actively participating in the scheme; but since Ramsey was an attorney who represented many of the people on the suspect list, the feds concluded that he knew what his clients were up to, was indirectly benefiting from their activities, and didn’t turn them in. Ramsey accepted a plea deal that put him in federal prison for five years.
Then, in 1994, Ramsey was victimized by a bizarre federal scam. A major Mexican drug dealer was given a get-out-of-jail-free card in exchange for setting Muniz up.
After Ramsey was found guilty by a jury that was intentionally shielded from all the significant facts of the case, the government argued that his conviction in the 1970s should really count as two “strikes” because identical charges accusing the same people of the same crime had been filed in Corpus Christi in San Antonio. Thus was Ramsey sentenced to life in prison under an old three-strikes provision.
After 20 years behind bars, Ramsey Muniz is an aging inmate who can no longer walk without assistance. As the infographic makes clear, there are few provisions for compassionate release at either the state or federal level, and those that exist are rarely invoked. Timorous politicians fear being labeled soft-on-crime.
I have argued that Ramsey Muniz is innocent of the charges filed against him in 1994. He is an attorney and a civil rights leader who has never profited from the sale of illegal drugs. But suppose I am wrong. What it the purpose of keeping a man like Muniz behind bars? He represents as much of a threat to the community as I do. A deeply spiritual man with a strong sense of mission, he is capable of doing much good in the free world.
There are tens of thousands of untold stories like this across the nation. Please give the infographic on aging behind bars your careful attention.
The elderly population in prison is rising at staggering rate. The consequence of mass incarceration and strict sentencing policies at the federal and state level, older prisoners require more expensive care at a time when their danger to society at large is waning. Most are likely to die in prison, as programs designed to release such prisoners on compassionate grounds are rarely invoked, and don’t have much potential to reduce the population of elderly prisoners. Continued high rates of long-term incarceration of the elderly are likely to add billions to state and federal criminal justice budgets. (more…)
Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA law school, wrote this piece for the Atlantic in September of 2011. The National Rifle Association has been roundly vilified in recent days. In the wake of the Sandy Hook slaughter of the innocents, an organization that opposes even the mildest attempt to regulate the sale, ownership and use of firearms comes off as insensitive and out of touch.
But why is the NRA so adamant on this issue? And has it always been so?
Winkler argues that until the late 1970s, the NRA gave a grudging blessing to gun control legislation, especially in the wake of the wave of political assassinations in the 1960s. Historically, he says, gun control enthusiasts have been primarily motivated by a desire to keep guns out of the hands of black people and that was especially true when leaders of the Black Panther Party made the most of their right to tote weapons in public.
But by the late 1970s things had changed. Ronald Reagan, once a proponent of legislation designed to limit the right of the Black Panthers to carry guns in public, had changed his tune. His new position was remarkably similar to the current policy of the NRA.
What accounts for this dramatic shift? And why have proponents of gun rights, black and white, taken a dim view of government and law enforcement? It has frequently been argued that the NRA is a racist hate group, and it is certainly true that the organization’s membership is overwhelmingly white and rural. But listen closely to the rhetoric of many gun rights people and you will hear a distinctly anti-government message. These people fear their government and insist on the right to arm themselves against it.
In short, American conservative have moved from the law and order rhetoric of the 70s and 80s to a new form of anti-government paranoia. Is this largely a function of having a black man in the White House? Is it a legitimate response to the kind of authoritarian overreach represented by the Patriot Act? Or might it be an complex combination of a multitude of factors? Those wishing to pursue this question should read Mr. Winkler’s remarkably evenhanded essay and the book he has written on the subject.
The Ku Klux Klan, Ronald Reagan, and, for most of its history, the NRA all worked to control guns. The Founding Fathers? They required gun ownership—and regulated it. And no group has more fiercely advocated the right to bear loaded weapons in public than the Black Panthers—the true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement. In the battle over gun rights in America, both sides have distorted history and the law, and there’s no resolution in sight.
By Adam Winkler
THE EIGHTH-GRADE STUDENTS gathering on the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento were planning to lunch on fried chicken with California’s new governor, Ronald Reagan, and then tour the granite building constructed a century earlier to resemble the nation’s Capitol. But the festivities were interrupted by the arrival of 30 young black men and women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols. (more…)
It’s 3:41 am, but sleep eludes me. I am haunted by America.
A few hours ago I walked from the Supreme Court building to the new Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and back. Along the way, I stopped by the Lincoln Memorial, wandering among the perennial tourists. A pudgy white boy of nine or ten, stood on the steps beside me. “Hey, Larry,” he called to his friend, “‘I have a dream.'”
Looking back across the reflecting pond to the Washington Memorial, I remembered that day, almost fifty years ago now, when Mahalia Jackson and Peter, Paul and Mary sang and Martin delivered his iconic speech. The great divide in American politics and religion is between those who remember that day in 1963 with a aching veneration, and those who regard Martin’s Dream Speech with an odd mixture of respect, dread and discomfort.
I grew up with King’s speeches. In my native Canada, the great civil rights leader was regarded as latter day prophet, a civil rights hero. My generation of Canadian youth defined itself in opposition to America and its war in Vietnam. We were impressed by America, a nation with ten times our population and fifty times our military and economic clout. There was no sense that the great nation to the south meant us any harm. But we were mystified by Jim Crow, and Vietnam, and cold war zealotry. At the height of the civil rights movement, two teachers from my home town of Yellowknife in the Canadian Northwest Territories took a summer trip through the American South. They told us of an encounter with a lovely woman in Georgia who made her Negro maids eat in the kitchen because it was improper for white and black people to share a meal. Our teachers were appalled by such sentiments.
Canadians, of course, have our own species of bigotry but, like the woman from Georgia, we were largely blind to the sins that beset us. (more…)
Mary Barker is a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s campus in Madrid, Spain as well as at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas. She is also a product of Utah’s Mormon culture, a socio-religious world she understands intimately.
In this piece written for Religion Dispatches she explains how Mitt Romney’s Mormonism shaped his “severe conservatism” but why his faith also provides a foundation for a merciful vision of American community. The two sides of Mormon spirituality help explain why Utah backed the New Deal and voted Democrat up until the 1950s when the civil rights movement and fear of international communism sparked a retreat into the world of John Birch paranoia that is still evident in the rantings of Glenn Beck.
Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism’s “Other” Legacy
Growing up with Mormon narratives—a two-part memoir and reflection on the good, the very bad, and a dreamed-for future.
By Mary Barker
There are many stories on which a Mormon is raised: narratives of the elect, America and the Constitution, the latter days, and free agency—all of which play a role in Mitt Romney’s “severe” conservatism. The bombshell release of video in which he trumpets his disdain for moochers, and reveals a remarkably casual approach to Middle East politics, all resonate with the Calvinist heritage of Mormon theology, as well as with principal Mormon narratives. But Mormonism also holds the seeds of a decidedly progressive politics—a possible Mormon liberation theology.
Does Romney’s religion matter? It’s a question that has been asked many times this election season. My answer, below, is in two parts, as I journey from End Times theology (the “latter days”) through Mormonism’s radical social and political past.
I grew up at the end of the world. As a Latter-day Saint, I made my debut just before the final curtain. During my youth, rumors circulated about neighbors and boyfriends whose special “patriarchal blessings” prophesied that they would never taste of death. That fairly clearly set the limit on time. The rebellious Sixties just confirmed what the Cold War had already shown us—that we were in a final showdown with evil that would only get worse until the second coming of Jesus which is now. (more…)
By Alan Bean
Therapeutic historian David Barton is looking for another publisher after his publisher, Thomas Nelson, decided to cancel Jefferson Lies.
Barton’s history provides therapy for conservative Americans who have been traumatized by the ugly truth about slavery, native American genocide and the religious deism and unabashed racism of our founding fathers.
It is difficult to confront the bald truth about our nation without experiencing a deep sadness. To be sure, there is much to admire in the American experiment. Though we have frequently teetered on the verge of fascism, we have generally been able to pull back from the brink. Most Americans have been on the wrong side of the big moral issues most of the time, and yet we have learned from our mistakes.
By the standards of history, America is a bastion of freedom–the competition isn’t that strong.
Weighed in the balance with the kingdom of God, we don’t do so well. Nobody does. As a nation, we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (more…)
Faux historian David Barton has written a book about Thomas Jefferson that portrays the deist slave holder as a Christian patriot who espoused enlightened views on slavery and race. But Barton’s primary aim is to expose a cynical liberal academy that lies to the American people. This quote from the book’s blurb is typical:
America, in so many ways, has forgotten. Its roots, its purpose, its identity―all have become shrouded behind a veil of political correctness bent on twisting the nation’s founding, and its founders, to fit within a misshapen modern world.
The time has come to remember again.
Evangelical historians Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter learned about David Barton’s book from their students at Grove City College. What they were hearing sounded strange enough to warrant a careful reading of Barton’s book. (more…)