Politics

Priests, prophets and kings; come, let us be on our way!

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We are all called to live out our baptismal vocation of priest, prophet, and king.
Today we need prophets willing to speak hard truths.
The truth that the overwhelming majority of whites have either explicit or implicit prejudice towards minorities.
The truth that police disproportionately stop, frisk, assault and kill minorities.
The truth that guns are the problem in our society.
The truth that just because you think everyone is equal doesn’t mean you actually act that way.
The truth that many leaders in all political parties promote white supremacist ideologies – whether from hatred or condescending messianism.
The truth that our nation locks up minorities at a disproportionate rate for drug offenses even though whites are more likely to do and sell drugs.
The truth that it’s not all about you and that when someone says you have done or said something racist, it is best to take some time to examine what you did even if it was unintentional.
The truth that our entire culture programs us to see black and brown and think crime.
The truth that police are responsible for their failures.
The truth that police unions and municipalities protect bad police.
The truth that nearly half of police participate in the code of silence to cover up bad policing.
The truth that leadership are the main cause for pressuring officers to participate in the code of silence.
The truth that whites have disenfranchised minorities through housing, schooling, healthcare access, food availability, transportation, and voter exclusion laws.
The truth that minorities are protesting the violence of gangs and taking a stand against violence.
The truth that talking about black on black crime is a subterfuge to avoid, ignore, dismiss and denigrate black and brown voices.
These are hard truths.
As prophets we are called to speak them in the streets regardless of the receptivity of those who hear them.
As prophets we call all people to examine their consciences, repent of the private and social sins of our nation, and seek a new way.
As prophets we offer hope for those who repent and choose the path of truth.
Let us be prophets. Let us speak the truth even if no one listens. Let us be Christ! Come, let us be on our way!

We like our myths but we hate our history

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Americans have never liked studying history, real history. We love mythology. We revel in stories of our genesis as a nation not realizing that, at best, these stories are exaggerations and/or allegorical; at worst, blatant lies and/or intentionally edited to leave out, as Paul Harvey said, “the rest of the story”.
We have short term memories and are uncomfortable with the histories that don’t make us feel good or are more complicated than simple dichotomies of good guy vs. bad guy. We make excuses for those who went before us and then we refuse to acknowledge that those unjust actions have any residual consequences on our contemporary society. Or we condemn previous generations and then tell everyone else to “get over it already.”
We need to recognize that things from the past have shaped the present and rarely are the issues of the past fully resolved, they just may no longer be in the news.
It may be shocking to some that in 2015 the United States government was still paying a pension to a living child of a civil war veteran. The civil war ended over 150 years ago amd we are still literally paying for it.
You think Dr. King had a dream and racism disappeared because a few laws were changed?
You think native people have casinos and therefore they are just fine and dandy?
That the USA stole half of Mexico and that the people whose ancestors were living on that land for centuries before it became US territory should “go back home”? They are home. This was their home before my ancestors were here. This was their home before the overwhelming majority of Irish, Italian, German, Scandanavian, Polish, and various other European people had immigrated here.
We “remember the Alamo” but we are told a myth. The truth is Santa Anna’s army was defending the sovereign land of Mexico from an invading army.
We hear people talk about the “founding fathers” and have no clue a out what they are saying. The founders hated Catholics and that fueled their desire for revolution when the Quebec Act was passed.
John Adams signed a law that made it illegal to criticize the government.
Washington ordered an act of genocide during the revolution. Washington also put down a rebellion over taxes with the use of a military force. The Civil War was about slavery – the articles of secession all state clearly they were seceeding to ensure the
future of slavery.
Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright orchestrated the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians.
We committed war crimes in The Revolution, WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and in many other military actions.

This does not mean that we have never done good things in the world. Our very Constitution is an enduring document of law that will, generations from now, still be studied and treated with historical importance for the world as much as the Hamarabi Code.

We have the capacity to do immense good here and around the world but we are hindered by our childish insolence when it comes to doing our collective homework on the history of our nation and the world.

All of the trials we face today did not just pop up out of nowhere, they were planted and cultivated years ago and the harvest has finally ripened. If we want to know what we should do going forward we must dig deeper in understanding what is going on today by learning about how we got where we are.

It is truly poverty!

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Blessed Teresa of Calcutta challenged us all when she said: “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” We ought not limit this simply to the issue of abortion. Our society promotes placing personal desires above the needs and dignity of children, born and unborn.
We balk at the idea of feeding the poor with food stamps but we have no problem wasting money on a $7 Starbucks cup of coffee or dropping thousands of dollars on the newest car, biggest television, or, sadly, the hundreds and even thousands of dollars of food we each throw out every year. Children in our world die because we are selfish. I am just as guilty as many in wasting or not giving more, I too am responsible.
We have commodified children via parenthood. We talk about what we “want” in a child; we have expectations of the kind of child we will have, the way our child will look, act, speak, etc. We impose premature “dreams” on parenthood and the childhood of children. We do not accept children for the gift they are, accepting them as they come to us, we want to accept them on our own terms, not on God’s.
Too many children are tossed out, as if they were trash; forced to languish in foster care and orphanages, wondering if anyone will ever want them. There are so many children in this world that need homes, and there are so many couples in this world desiring to love a child. Why do so many children remain, then, in foster care and orphanages? Sadly, we are caught up in our own biologism. How fitting it would be to unite the pain of not being able to have a child with the pain of a child who is without a family; much like we are called to unite our earthly pain with that of Christ upon the Cross. This union of pain can have a redeeming quality and show all involved the beauty of hope and the active reality of love.
Unfortunately, society has sold couples on the idea that their pain can be solved by applying science so that they can have children that will “really” be theirs; as if genetics is the only means to make a family. We have now begun the process of manufacturing children in labs because we want something that is “ours” biologically; keeping the ones we find have the most preferred qualities, and discarding those that are “imperfect” or have qualities that are “undesirable.” These rejected children (science labels them embryos) are then relegated to the prisons of fertility clinic freezers, or worse, dissected in the name of science. The pain that is very real in not being able to have children by ordinary means, as painful and agonizing as that pain is, cannot justify the unjust consequences of Invitro Fertilization, which is the creation of children to be abandoned or experimented on.
We must reeducate ourselves on the dignity of the human person, especially children. It truly is a poverty, and a crime, that children must suffer and/or die so that we can live as we wish. So that we can satisfy our “wants” and self-serving desires instead of serving others. We must do better to protect life from womb to tomb. We must do better at respecting the dignity of all persons, regardless of their circumstances.

Shackled love: The Pursuit to End the Shackling of Pregnant Inmates During Labor

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An interview with Sarah[1]

 

My name is Mark Schmidt; I hold a Masters degrees in Social Work and a Master of Arts in Catholic Thought and Life. I currently work as a hospice chaplain in Illinois but live in Iowa. Several years ago I spoke with a woman who shared with me the story of the birth of her child. An occasion so sacred as the birth of a child should be a joyous one. New life entering the world should be greeted with celebration. In this particular story this was not the case. Instead, one innocent child entered the world amidst humiliation and suffering and under severe threat to its wellbeing. What makes this story unique is that this child’s mother gave birth while serving a prison sentence in the State of Iowa. I myself would have not believed what I was hearing had it come from anyone but this young mother. The pain, sadness, and humiliation in this woman’s voice left me speechless as she shared her story. The following is as accurate of a description as I can tell of what it was like for this young mother to give birth in prison in Iowa.

In order to tell you this story I would like to introduce you to Sarah. Sarah is a real person. She broke the law and was sentenced to serve time in the State of Iowa. She was pregnant and incarcerated. When the time came for her to give birth instead of being whisked away to the hospital by a caring family member full of love and support she traveled an excruciating trip to Iowa City in a manner that was no less than torturous. Her description of the trip and the restraints used during her more than one-and-a-half hour trip matches those described to me by an email from the Iowa Department of Corrections in 2007:

 

“If they are more than six months pregnant, the offender should be placed in cuffs, belly chain, security box, and padlock; the leg irons will be carried by the escorting officer. The belly chain will be placed above the offenders’ stomach; so as not to cause discomfort. If it is a medical emergency, the shift supervisor can determine a form of lesser restraint, in order to get the offender out the door more quickly.”[2]

 

Sarah was on her way to the hospital to give birth to her child early one morning, chained up and strapped to a chair for over an hour-and-a-half. Once she arrived at the hospital she was handcuffed to the bed, and had “leg shackles”[3] applied as the hospital staff prepped her for surgery; she was to give birth via c-section. According to Sarah, while the hospital staff gave her intravenous fluids and took blood samples she remained in “leg shackles”. Sarah said she does not remember a time that the restraints were removed, although she could not be sure if they were or were not completely removed during surgery. Immediately after giving birth she was once again placed in “leg shackles”. This treatment continued even after Sarah began retaining water in her legs and ankles, causing painful swelling, the “leg shackles” were not removed. They remained on her legs. The only relief she received from this torture was the occasional visit by a merciful and courageous nurse who demanded their removal so she could make sure that no damage was being done due to the “leg shackles.” As is often necessary following delivery, Sarah needed to move around to prevent complications from the surgery. “I had to walk around the hospital floor with shackles on my legs.” Humiliating is the only thing that can describe this treatment. “It was degrading…They treat you like you are not even human.”

Sarah’s voice trembled as she said to me that her experience giving birth to her child “was just horrible.” Her voice was soft during most of our conversation. There was no joy in her voice as she described the birth of her child. Instead, what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, she described it to me simply: “it felt like hell.”  I asked Sarah what she would like from telling her story. The first thing she said is that “having your baby in prison is not easy.” She then became very earnest. “If my story can help anyone, just one woman, not have to go through what I did, then telling my story will be worth it.”

As I hung up the phone with Sarah I was stunned at what I had just listened to from this young woman. A week prior to my conversation with Sarah the Iowa Department of Corrections had told me that the issue was not a problem and that my pursuit of legislation to prohibit the use of restraints on women during their stay at the hospital to give birth was unnecessary. What the Department of Corrections ignores is that this practice has happened. Furthermore, we need a law that brings all correctional facilities under a universal procedure for women who give birth while serving sentences or are awaiting sentencing. This should include, not only the Department of Correction, but also all county and municipal jurisdictions so that, no matter where a woman serves her sentence, no matter what authority she serves it under, she and her unborn child are treated with respect and their lives are not endangered by barbaric practices such as these.

Some may question Sarah’s honesty, integrity, and the validity of her story. After all, isn’t she a criminal who gave up her right to have a pleasant delivery when she broke the law? The simple answer to such a question is “NO!” Regardless of Sarah’s crime, her dignity as a human being should never have been denied. Sarah’s experience was not only humiliating but also dangerous. This ordeal was not only dangerous to Sarah’s life, but also risked the life and safety of her unborn and completely innocent child.[4] Shouldn’t our State be in the practice of protecting innocent life of children and not endangering it? This should not have happened to Sarah, and it should never happen again.

I am writing to say that such legislation is necessary to prevent another story like Sarah’s. This should never have happened to Sarah, especially in the State of Iowa. How many more Sarah’s will there be if legislation is not passed to prohibit such treatment? Please support legislation to ban the use of restraints on pregnant inmates in our state and county prisons and jails.

 

Sincerely,

 

Mark Schmidt, MSW, MA


[1] Sarah is an alias I have given to the woman I have spoke with in order to respect her wishes to remain anonymous for fear of any retribution or added humiliation.

[2] This excerpt was taken from an email sent to me from Chris Gesie of the Iowa Department of Corrections; December 2007.

[3] “Leg shackles” were the words used by Sarah to describe the restraints used on her.

[4] The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists publicly support legislation to prohibit the use of restraints on pregnant inmates during labor due to the safety risks to the life of mother and child. Highlighted in a letter to The Rebecca Project for Human Rights dated June 12, 2007.