By the eighth grade, Kimo had stopped showing up for school. He preferred the beaches of western Oahu or the island bus system that took him away from the frustrations of the classroom. It wasn’t long before alcohol and drugs replaced surfing and bus riding as distractions, followed by a career of petty theft and assault. When he was 20, Kimo was shipped off to a private prison in the Arizona desert, contracted by the state of Hawaii to house its prisoners.
Distance and prohibitive phone fees kept his family contact to a minimum. Kimo’s mother managed a trip to the prison, only to be told after hours of waiting that visiting hours had been changed. She was forced to leave without mother and son seeing each other.
By order of the state Supreme Court, Hawaii’s contract with Kimo’s prison required that native Hawaiians have access to their traditional spiritual practices, but the program was inconsistently implemented; distance made enforcement of contract details nearly impossible. As a result, Kimo had limited access to his community rituals of repentance and restoration. Despite this, his behavior was exemplary, and he was optimistic about being paroled with time off for good behavior. However, the prison did not offer the anger management course included in his sentence, so his request for parole was denied. His reaction to the injustice of this denial landed him in solitary confinement.
Psalm 19 tells us that “the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” Even so, without Jesus Christ, it condemns us all. How much more difficult is it for someone to obey imperfect human law, especially when it is capriciously and unfairly administered? As people whose own lives are given back to them over and over again by God’s grace, it is fitting that we not only proclaim Jesus’ good news to the captive, but also advocate for the fair treatment of our nation’s incarcerated people.
The Rev. Trina Zelle, national organizer and executive director, Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA). firstname.lastname@example.org; 808-208-9166
The Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network is a grassroots network of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association. Visit pcusa.org/pcjn to find out how your congregation can get involved.
Let us pray
Gracious and forgiving God, keep us mindful of our own great need for redemption as we seek to minister with people incarcerated by our country’s criminal justice system. We pray in the name of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.