Friday, March 13, 2009

To Witness

Recently, I visited a low security prison on a Saturday afternoon. In the waiting room were many women. Some brought food...some brought children...some were dressed sensually...all seemed materially poor but rich in love. One by one we were called to the registration desk, scanned, inspected and escorted to the cafeteria waiting until the inmates were called on the public address system. As the men streamed in, each intensely searched the room until a familiar face was spotted and a light flickered in their eyes. Familiar foods were shared and the room filled with positive noise. At one table a black Muslim and his white wife stared at a small video. At another table a mother fed her crippled son. Nearby a young inmate rested his head on the breast of an older women and seemed to sleep like a contented baby. I wondered what the future held for all of them. Why did these women surrender a Saturday and make long journeys to visit them? What did these children think about this world when they returned to school on Monday and joined other kids? Where were inmates and families of the rich? Since so many inmates were addicted to drugs that was the reason most were here. Were these men criminals who were addicted or did their addiction cause them to become criminals? I wondered do we punish the sick for being sick? Would we imprison a person who stole drugs to relieve their cancer? Are these people in an endless descent into a final defeat? When we love someone who is terminally sick we often are just reduced to being witnesses of their suffering, and in that sense we become the martyr. The word martyr means "to witness". It is associated with suffering, and indeed, we do suffer when we helplessly watch the journey of the terminally ill. For these men I wondered if their drug addictions were terminal, and if their visitors, adult and child, were called to be their witnesses..their martyrs. Such was the world of drugs in America that Saturday at the prison.

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