Responsively Yours: Precious in God’s Sight
- Precious in God’s Sight: Audio version (MP3, 4.8MB)
- Cover of Response, October 2008 (PDF, 30k)
- Content of Response, October 2008 (PDF, 52K)
- Harriett Jane Olson is deputy general secretary for the Women's Division.
Jesus used the example of visiting persons in prison to explain the Kingdom saying in Matthew 25:36, “I was in prison and you visited me.” John and Charles Wesley began some of their early work in the “holy club” at Oxford by visiting prisoners. One might then imagine that members of United Methodist churches would be working in prisons regularly, along with our other sisters and brothers in the Wesleyan family.
Some of us are. Some conferences include Disciple Bible Study in prison as part of their regular outreach. Some bishops visit each prison in their area when they are assigned. Some United Methodist Women members provide care packages, Reading Program books and transportation support for families of the incarcerated. And at least one has helped women in the Topeka Correctional Institution form a United Methodist Women unit.
As an intern at the Citizen’s Crime Commission in Philadelphia, Pa., when I was in college, I was asked to visit several prisons as part of an ongoing project. I went, navigating the transportation system to get to the location and walking through the process of gaining entry. My lasting impression from that first trip is the size and the grayness of the buildings, which emphasized my sense of vulnerability and isolation. In my memory, the gate actually clanged shut behind me.
That experience had shaping influence. I listen differently to the statistics about who populates our prisons. I know one of the effects of the federal minimum sentencing guidelines has been to increase the lengths of terms persons serve for the offenses that we treat as being most severe (treating crack more severely than cocaine possession, for example). I also know the clanging gate I remember is really a revolving door of recidivism in too many cases.
These are enormous and interconnected issues that affect every state, city and county in the United States. As United Methodist Women, we are involved with many of them. Without asserting racism, poverty and broken families cause crime we know that crime is statistically correlated with all three issues. We understand the broader cultural context affects how our society responds to both crime and punishment. We know that even among the prisoners on death row, DNA evidence has demonstrated we have incarcerated the wrong people with distressing frequency. We know the rehabilitation aspect of incarceration must connect with systemic issues in order to give people a true second chance when they are released.
From my visit in September, I know this knowledge affects United Methodist Women’s work in Topeka, Kan., in a deep way. From across the Kansas East Conference, women have come together to create a family visiting space in a minimum-security facility that not only offers a modicum of privacy, but also has cribs, toys and books for families. Conference United Methodist Women retreats in the spring and fall offer families extended time together, and the prison unit holds parenting classes on a regular basis. United Methodist Women unit members at the prison train Seeing Eye dogs and have instituted an aluminum can recycling program for the whole facility that funds their pledge to mission. As the members of the unit work together to give to others, they are valued and value each other as children of God.
United Methodist Women is also addressing part of this web of issues through the Campaign for Children, Phase III, which focuses on public education. Our schools and our families need to be places where children learn they are loved and valued, and learn to love and value others. United Methodist Women members are taking action as individuals, as units and as supporters of National Mission Institutions that focus on education.
What will it take for us to make an impact on the societal conditions that predispose large portions of our population to the risk of being incarcerated for a crime?
As we work together on the root causes, let us not be “weary in welldoing” but continue in so many ways to communicate that every person is a loved child of God and is precious in God’s sight.
Harriett Jane Olson
Deputy General Secretary
Date posted : Nov. 07, 2008