Celia M. Hastings

Celia M. Hastings

“God has sent me to bring good news to those who are poor; to heal broken hearts; to proclaim release to those held captive and liberation to those in prison.” — Isaiah 61:1 The Inclusive Bible

In last week’s article I wrote about my Feast-of-Booths adventure traveling by bus across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to a justice conference in Minneapolis. This adventure was part of a spiritual growth class assignment to “go outside your comfort zone” in order to grow in faith.

But adventures outside one’s comfort zone also come from events in life which may or may not be chosen. Or from a video, a book or a conversation. My concern about our country’s mass incarceration system – frequently mentioned in my articles – was sparked in 2006 by reading a book, “Sweet Freedom” by Doug Tjapkes. It’s the story of how Doug met Maurice Carter during a prison visit, became convinced Maurice was innocent and worked for nine years to prove it. In the process the two developed a close friendship.

An amusing part of Doug’s efforts to get Maurice released was parking a billboard truck under the governor’s window with the message: “Free Maurice Carter now!” Sadly, after serving 29 years for a crime he did not commit, Maurice died three months following his release – as a result of inhumane treatment and improper health care while incarcerated. Because of this experience Doug founded Humanity for Prisoners to help prisoners in Michigan.

My concern for prisoners continues. Our country has the highest per capita rate of incarceration in the world. The Innocence Project finds at least 10 percent are innocent. Taxpayers foot the bill for an average annual cost of $40,000 per prisoner – much of which is pocketed by for-profit prison corporations and their shareholders while denying prisoners their basic needs. Thus the mass incarceration system is akin to human trafficking – exploiting vulnerable people for profit.

Our prison system’s inhumane and punitive conditions are more reflective of a totalitarian regime than of a democracy. Other democracies have systems which cost far less, have more humane conditions and better outcomes in far less time. These systems focus on prevention, correction, rehabilitation and restoration rather than punishment for profit.

From a faith perspective, our mass incarceration system needs to move from a system of despair to a system of hope. The Innocence Project in each state, nonprofits such as Humanity for Prisoners, 70×7 Life Recovery, Cards for Prisoners, Keryx Prison Ministries, Calvin University’s Prison Initiative and Anthroposophical Prison Outreach are some of the organizations at work planting seeds of hope and change.

So besides a bus trip to a justice conference, a book took me outside my comfort zone, revealed injustice in our country and the need to bring good news to the most vulnerable people – such as prisoners – which is central to the teachings of Moses, Isaiah and Jesus.

A colorfully illustrated 31-page book, “‘The Douger’ and Maurice,”provides a condensed version of “Sweet Freedom.” Both are available at www.humanityforprisoners.org/books.

The Rev. Celia M. Hastings has a master’s degree in religious education from Western Theological Seminary in Holland. She is author of “The Wisdom Series” and “The Undertaker’s Wife.”

This article originally appeared on The Petoskey News-Review: Hastings: Bringing good news

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