Day 19 Devotional & Discussion – March 26, 2014

Deuteronomy 25:2-3

This scripture describes a judgment against a law-breaker and a sentence of flogging.  While flogging is severe (it is still practiced in many countries for even minor offenses), the Law limits it to no more than forty lashes.  Why the limit?  Because otherwise “your neighbor will be degraded in your sight.”  The “criminal” is still a neighbor and still deserves dignity.  His/Her humanity must be preserved.  There is protection for the “criminal” even in the midst of punishment.

This is criminal justice that is done in public.  It is out in the open where the lashes can be counted and those doing the flogging can be stopped after 40.  Thankfully, in our enlightened correctional system, we have done away with public hangings and floggings.  However, we have moved the punishment indoors to the prison and in the process removed correction from public scrutiny and accountability.  We have hidden the criminal and those who carry out the punishment.  And we no longer have to watch our neighbor be degraded before our eyes.

Did you know that twice as many rapes occur inside prisons than outside?  Did you know that guards frequently beat up prisoners and encourage prison fights for entertainment?  Did you know that prison wardens frequently place prisoners in solitary confinement for undisclosed reasons and keep them there indefinitely?  And there is little accountability.

What words do we use in our society to describe a a person who has been convicted of a crime and incarcerated?  Does the word “neighbor” come to mind?  Why or why not?  What in our correctional system do you think would change if we did see the criminal as our neighbor?  How might we restore accountability in a correctional system that is removed from our sight?

Have you fasted in support of our neighbors at the Menard Correctional Center and other prisons around the country who are on a hunger strike because they have been in solitary confinement for indefinite periods of time in terrible conditions?  Set a time now to do it.  Check out the resource page for an update on conditions at Menard.

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3 comments

  1. I’ve never thought of public punishment or execution in terms of accountability. It always seem primitive, gruesome or morbid. But maybe it was the opposite. More like the duty of the community to ensure it was done properly and with dignity. That whole “cruel and unusual punishment” clause takes on a different meaning when I consider this context. I’m challenged by the question: What would change in our correctional system if we saw the criminal as our neighbor? Because it’s so easy for it to become “out of sight, out of mind.” I’m not a fan of watching executions or physical punishment, but that might just be my own comfort. Thanks for these thought-provoking lessons.

    1. Lisa, I agree that public punishment is gruesome. I’m definitely not an advocate for a return to flogging or hanging or public punishment of any kind. It can easily turn an opportunity for sick voyeurism. However, I am deeply disturbed by what I’ve been learning about the indiscriminate use of long-term isolation, abuse of prisoners, and unsafe conditions. Thanks to this Compact, I can no longer live with “out of sight, out of mind”. I was also challenged with the idea of seeing the criminal as my neighbor. We can so easily objectify the one who has broken the law through words like “convict”, “criminal” “the incarcerated”. We forget that they are people–which allows us to mistreat them. I was immediately convicted by what Jesus defined as the most important command: love your neighbor as yourself, and the command to treat others the way you would want to be treated.

  2. 40 seems way too many to me. I wonder how that number was decided upon. Like Lisa, I can’t say that I’ve ever thought about the difference between public and private punishment. You are right that out of sight punishment leads to an abandonment of the incarcerated. Which is probably how most people like it. I feel within myself how wrong it is that this out of sight punishment leads to an even more criminal environment in the prison, especially considering that high rape level. I can hear someone say, “Yeah, but then prison is an effective deterrent. We want it to be an awful place. That way people will be scared of going there, and thus think twice before committing a crime.” I wonder if that is true, though. How much of a deterrent is prison? When it is private, hidden, we rarely think about it, and thus something tells me it is hardly a deterrent at all. I agree that we need a much more loving, restorative response.

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