Thursday July 19***
Back here in summery Somerville, small group continues! I'm hoping to continue our theme of justice with a 3 part series examining criminal justice. An overview will begin this Thursday, followed by a video next week, and format TBD the following week.
Michelle was wearing "elevator shoes" -- black chunky heels with like 4-inch platforms (and pink hearts, 'cause yeah). She also got her hair cut -- which Mike pointed out makes us more of a pair, something neither of us had actually thought of until he mentioned it.
While dinner was prepping, she asked Eric if he'd seen Sicko. He hadn't. She had seen it for some lawðics class or something she's taking for her Medical Assistant program. They talked some and he pondered health care as next small group topic? I said I wasn't sure whether to be sad or glad that I won't be here for that unit. I was, however, pleased that on reflection Michelle wasn't entirely un-critical of Moore.
Full disclosure: I saw Bowling for Columbine while I was at Smith and then got on the Internet 'cause I recalled having seen some article about it which I hadn't read at the time since I hadn't yet seen the film. I never did find the article I was originally looking for, but I found a lot of stuff tearing apart Moore/the film. (I should have LJ entries about it, but I can't find them. Boo on not having all my back entries tagged.) I ceased to have any respect for him and now have knee-jerk reactions against him. I think I also recall reading one or two of his books up in New Hampshire but I have very little memory of the actual content or my reactions thereto.
Eric was saying our first unit was gonna be on criminal justice, and Michelle commented that she actually leans to the right on that issue. I said this was gonna be trippy 'cause I suspected that I actually lean left on this.
Michelle's upset by how far the "innocent until proven guilty" provisions go -- that like if the police see someone enter their house with a bloody knife, they can't follow them in and apprehend them. I countered with pointing out that there is the issue of probable cause and you can get search warrants. I was really surprised -- though I didn't mention this -- since Gary has talked recently about really bad experiences with corrupt local police, and Michelle has seemed to be of the "fuck the pigs" frame of mind.
Michelle and I are actually both pro-profiling, though. In some circumstances at least. I'm not endorsing men getting pulled over for "driving while black," but "random" searches at airlines? You're wasting time and resources searching people you know aren't a threat in order to prove you're being "fair" (and, I argued to Eric, this creates the illusion that the searches are "random" and "fair," so if you are concerned about illegitimate discrimination, shouldn't you be upset by token shows of "randomness" that create the illusion that this discrimination isn't happening?). When you have a pretty consistent profile, isn't the intelligent thing to do to use that?
In Googling, I found this 2002 Eugene Volokh piece, about a similar issue.
The handout started with Scripture:
Exodus 23:1-3, 6-8
I was particularly struck by, "You shall not follow a majority wrongdoing" (from v.2) and "nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit" (from v. 3).
I noticed that v. 20 says: "Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you" [emphasis mine]
I was pleased to see the Matthew bit 'cause yeah, Jesus did talk about Judgement and a Heaven and Hell of sorts, and we need to deal with that.
The version we had said, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family*, you did it to me" [v. 40], which troubles me. I prefer Lewis' bit about Aslan and Tash in The Last Battle:
But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. [...] For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.I don't know which version Eric used (the asterisk was in our handout), though pulling up the NIV on BibleGateway.com I get "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
I am totally using this opportunity to quote an excerpt from "The New New Atheism" (The Wall Street Journal, 16 July 2007, 2003 words) ["Mr. Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, teaches at George Mason University School of Law."]
The bloody history of oppression and war undertaken on behalf of the gods and God, from time immemorial, makes all decent people shudder. But Mr. Hitchens knows perfectly well that human beings are not born in Rousseauian purity and freedom, and then made savage by the imposition of the chains of religion. Therefore, he should have asked whether and to what extent the varieties of religion have inflamed or rather disciplined humanity's powerful built-in propensity, attested to by social science, to fight and kill. But he didn't.Next we had some readings which flowed into each other impressively (yes, I Affirmed Eric for that).
Such a question opens intriguing possibilities. Mr. Hitchens mocks the crudity of the biblical principle known in Latin as lex talionis, or an "eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot." But suppose, as Jewish teaching suggests, that the biblical principle put an end to the practice of taking a leg for a foot and a life for an eye, and in its place established a principle that, though differently interpreted today, remains a cornerstone of our notion of justice -- that the punishment should fit the crime.
Similarly, Mr. Hitchens heaps scorn on the biblical story of Abraham's binding of Isaac, in which, at the last moment, an angel stays Abraham's hand. What kind of barbarian, wonders Mr. Hitchens, would prepare to sacrifice his son at God's command, and what kind of morally stunted individuals would honor such a man, or the deity who made the demand? Yet Mr. Hitchens's categorical claim that religion poisons everything is undermined by the common interpretation according to which God's testing of Abraham taught, among other things, that the then widespread practice of child-sacrifice was contrary to God's will, and must be put to an end forever.
First was a "Criminal Justice 101" from CUNY.
It outlined different views of crime -- natural law, social construct (deviance), and then legal construct.
I was a bit annoyed with the tautological "crime is defined as breaking a law" since it felt like a departure from the previous sections' attempts at defining why we consider something a crime (the legalistic definition just pushes that "why" back a step -- it then becomes "Why is this a law?")
The CUNY article also outlined the differences between jails and prisons and talked about how the "no frills" movement (to reduce prisoner privileges and make imprisonment more of a punishment) has also resulted in cuts to treatment programs, which is problematic.
Next there was some promotional material from Prison Fellowship Resources (http://www.prisonfellowship.org), followed by PR material from Boston Rescue Mission's Women's Re-entry Program.
In summary, IFI [InnerChange Freedom Initiative] and therapeutic models have some similar methodologies, but they have very different goals, and are rooted in entirely different philosophies. The therapeutic model seeks first to reconcile the relationship of a prisoner to other human beings. The IFI model, in contrast, seeks to reconcile people through changing their relationship with God.The BRM program is intense. "Active participation in sixteen recovery groups a week is required for our program." I also boggled at: "Approximately two-thirds of those returning with the traditional offender transition plan ($50 and a bus ticket) re-offend." $50 and a bus ticket! Surely that is the stuff of old movies, no?
-from the PFR material
I was surprised to hear Mike (and Michelle) saying yeah, religion is probably more effective than secular, 'cause usually he's the one who brings up the argument that the things we're talking about are good ideas, but they can be equally argued under secular ethics, so it doesn't have to be specifically religious. Not that I'm necessarily quibbling with their arguments -- I particularly remember Michelle pointing out that secular programs basically say you should reform so that you can become a productive member of society, but a religious approach says that you may feel rejected by society, but you are in fact loved: God loves you, on a personal level, I love you, and uses that love as its foundation/catalyst for change.
Eric asked if the BRM program was something we thought we would contribute to financially (he phrased it as a really non-threatening no-pressure hypothetical) -- with a side question of whether it should be government/privately funded, which I think is a really interesting question but which we didn't really get into.
Mike of course wanted numbers to back up the BRM's praise of its program, but I was really surprised that in the end he said he probably wouldn't give money because he doesn't know these people, doesn't have any personal connection with them.
Eric asked if any of us had any involvement with prison ministry programs. None of us did. I talked a little about prison books programs and creative writing type programs, especially at juvenile detention centers (thanks to Smith and my zining adolescence).
One of Eric's discussion questions was about the current prison system and how we would change it.
I asked if I could eliminate the War on Drugs -- if I could reform the criminal justice system rather than just the prison system.
It was really nice to get to monologue, as I've been fairly quiet for some weeks now.
I talked about how huge numbers of people are in jail for drug-related offenses, and how a lot of times women go to jail for it because their boyfriends are dealing but it's their name on the lease or whatever, plus because it's illegal you get pulled into that culture so you're more likely to get involved with other illegal activities (plus you know society doesn't look well on you, so you feel less connection to it). And if it were legal the government could regulate it -- plus make money off it through tax revenues. And it would stop this huge flow of money going out of the country to import drugs from elsewhere. I said it should be a free-market capitalism patriotic good thing.
Mike devil's advocated for getting drug abusers out of society, saying a lot of it comes out of a very parental kind of concern -- I think the gist was that you should get drug users out of society so that they don't contaminate the rest of society . . . though not phrased quite so horrendously.
Meredith pointed out that that was very paternalistic. He said well yeah, it's rooted in parental concern.
I said that I have friends who've had very bad experiences with alcoholics, so they would love to see alcohol completely eliminated from society, but they know that that won't work -- hello, Prohibition.
I also got to talk about some of what I'd learned in my j-term class on the prison industrial complex or whatever -- about how a lot of small rural towns want jails/prisons built because it provides a major source of employment.
When we were leaving, I said bye to Eric and he called me: "Miss Eliz-- Ms. Elizabeth . . . heh, Ms. Eliz." I said "Miss Elizabeth" was fine since it is accurate and then said that it always makes me think of 1980's WWF with Randy Savage's manager/girlfriend Miss Elizabeth, which was a connotation I was fine with. [Wow, pulling her up on Wikipedia? Sucked to be her.]