Monday, August 16, 2010

In America, the Land of No Redemption...

...two men find inner freedom

I am writing this prior to leaving for an annual mentoring conference that I attend in Mendocino every summer. We were to bring four men and three of our youth. I say “were” because we are down to just me and Free (YMC staff) along with the youth. Two of our little party cannot attend now because of their unique relationship with the State of Calif.  These are men who got into trouble in the past, did their time and are now out trying to make this a better world. They both volunteer with YMC and work to create healing, keep youngsters from following the gang life or doing other things that would get them in trouble or ruin their lives. Talk about rehabilitation!  

We invited them to join us on this trip because this particular retreat, headed up by Michael Meade (a man that I consider a mentor) provides the kind of experience, deep work and training that is not available anywhere else. I was excited that this might bring their work with youth to another level.
So, here’s what happened:
Maurice works for another youth service organization and is volunteering to mentor one of our young men at YMC with great results. Ten days ago we inexplicably lost contact with him. Last Friday he resurfaces to tell us he had been locked up. Did he slip? Did his past catch up to him again? Did he do something stupid to get into trouble with the law again?  Nope, his crime was walking home from work!  You see, Maurice’s agency hires ex- gang bangers to give them a fresh start, and so they can help keep others out of ‘the life’ as well. After work one day Maurice and a co-worker were leaving work to walk home and were arrested for being together. Hanging out with other parolees or ex-gangsters is a violation of their parole. Doesn’t matter that they were just leaving a workplace that hires folks like them, which Maurice attempted to explain. Doesn’t matter that they are good men doing life-saving work. What matters is that a police officer had the power to take him in. Technically he violated his parole the second he stepped out of the building with the other guy. He is now on house arrest and cannot attend this conference that happens only once per year.

I would not blame Maurice for feeling incredibly angry, victimized or depressed. Instead he tells me that he is using this to help his mentee understand the consequences of living that kind of life. He philosophizes: “I didn’t become a criminal overnight. So, I guess I won’t become completely free overnight”.

Hugo volunteers time with Youth Mentoring Connection and works in Lancaster for the Catalyst Foundation doing work to “decrease the impact of unhealed emotional pain and trauma”. God forbid somebody like that could have any freedom of movement in our society. He was signed up for the conference with approval from his P.O….until he was given a new P.O. who decided to put him back through the approval process again and they revoked his permission four days before the conference. At the same time they are questioning his permission to live in his home and to work at his job. In the conversation with the new P.O. Hugo was reminded on several occasions of his status on probation just to reinforce that he has no rights, no freedom. Reminded that no matter what he does with his life from here on out, there is no redemption in the eyes of the state. 

These are two men doing life-saving work. If anyone should be encouraged to go to this conference it is they. During the balance of their time on this planet I have no doubt that these two men will save more lives than the policeman that arrested Maurice, and rehabilitate more parolees than Hugo’s P.O. But we have a system that simply does not believe in redemption. So, it is up to us to find ways to honor the redeeming works of men (and women) like these, despite the obstacles that will be constantly placed in our way by people given great authority over another human life with no training in how to use that power with integrity or compassion. Yes, there are wonderful and compassionate cops, as well as Parole Officers. But someone’s freedom to live their life and find their own redemption in good works should not be based upon the luck of the draw as to which assigned P.O. you are going to get, or which officer you will be confronted with today.

Finally, in an act that would humble me, Hugo (the one being victimized in this situation) begins to console me as I express my anger over the treatment he was receiving: “Tony, this is my life”, he said. “I’m just grateful to be dealing with this from out here and not in prison.” 

In the words of the immortal Bob Marley: “none but our self can free our mind” (from Redemption Song)



Redemption Redux
Good News: We leave tomorrow for our retreat and Hugo will be with us. Hugo is resourceful. He called several of us and asked us to phone his P.O. on his behalf and then drove out to see his P.O., attorney at his side. Before I could even make my call Hugo contacts me to let me know that they reversed their reversal. He can now keep his job, live in his home and go to Mendocino with us. Way to go Hugo!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice Tony. And a gift to have Hugo join us at the retreat. Happy that the state reconsidered and let this terrific man come.

Greg (Bad Poet)