February 26, 2021

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

Let’s do our part to support those incarcerated

Fr. Jeremy King, O.S.B.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.

I recently had occasion to bury a 94-year-old man, and about two months later a 28-year-old, who died very suddenly and tragically. For both funerals, I used a song from Jonathan Larson’s Broadway musical Rent. It is titled “Seasons of Love.” It begins thus: “525,600 minutes/525,600 minutes in a year.” And then the song asks: “How do measure a life in a year?”

For each of us, there are most important minutes in our lives—the minute we are born and the minute we die being the most significant.

But for too many, it is the minute they took the first drink or pill or injected the first drug. It might also be the first time they heard the jail or prison cell door close behind them. For the families of those who are incarcerated, those same minutes are significant as well. On the other hand, there are the minutes when a modification is granted, or the minute when a person has been behind bars for decades is set free.

There are different ways to measure a life. So often we measure in seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years. We use a fixed measurement. But we can also look at a year as a collection of opportunities that cannot be fixed in time. We call them “ah-ha” moments, or “come to Jesus” moments. We all have them, but sometimes we let then slip by.

A new year allows us more opportunities to “start over.” For folks that are facing “time” in jails and prisons, this January might not have seemed significant unless we who enjoy freedom on the “outside” let them know we were thinking about them and praying for them. 

How many of us complain about the COVID-19 restrictions, even just having to wear masks? How many of us found the holidays to be less enjoyable because we could not gather with family and friends? How much more frustrating are these conditions for our brothers and sisters who sleep in bunk beds in prison dorms with 250 others, or in an overcrowded jail cell in a “boat.”

We all pray that the rest of 2021 brings relief from the pandemic with the potential effects of the vaccines that are available.

For our brothers and sisters who are incarcerated and for their families, 2021 could be as bad as or worse than 2020. It is within the power of each of us to take the opportunities found in just a few of the 525,600 minutes of 2021 to help prevent an incarceration, to support someone incarcerated and/or to assist a “returning” citizen find a job, a place to live and a faith community.

(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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