Many people may not view my profession, my peers, or offenders as I do. When I began working in corrections, my mother believed that most people in prison had average advantages and simply chose to be bad. Further, because of their bad behavior, their time in prison, 24/7, should be spent contemplating the error of their ways. For my mother this changed when I took her on a tour of Oklahoma’s Mabel Bassett Correctional Center. It was then that my mother truly saw the women. She joined God’s perspective who truly sees the women and their value even when they themselves or others may not.
Most women who are incarcerated are born into circumstances many of us cannot comprehend. As infants and little girls, their birthright is being raised in a “home” where they experience child physical and/or sexual abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, untreated mental illness, divorced parents, parental incarceration, parental violence and poverty. These traumas are layered one upon another upon another until she attempts escape by running away or otherwise ends up in her own dysfunctional relationships.
As women, many experience rape in adulthood and most experience domestic violence. Addiction travels hand-in-hand with trauma. These women are often introduced to drugs and alcohol by family members. Ultimately addiction is the symptom that leads to contact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
As Christians, we are told “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).” We are told, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again (Matthew 7:1-3, KJV).” These are the scriptures that come to mind when I think of these women and their circumstances.
So far, contemplating scripture and the circumstances to which these women were born and socialized into only serves to increase my questions:
- What is appropriate punishment for their crimes?
- How long must they be punished? Being a “convicted felon” never truly seems to be over, but that’s a subject for another time.
- Who apologizes to them for the family they were born into? For the crimes committed against them?
- What is justice?
My hope is to provoke questions in you and to start a conversation. I believe we are called to live in community and that it is our duty to walk with one another. God Bless Us All.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections
Deputy Director, Institutions, Division I