‘They must pay for their crimes!’ And they should. ‘If you do the crime, then do the time!’ Rightly so. But there is a caveat: we call them the Beatitudes. It concerns the hungry, the thirsty, orphans, the sick – no problem so far. But then, we hesitate at the inclusion of strangers, and we wave a definite no with our fingers when it comes to prisoners.
Even two weeks ago, when Senator Paul Richards joined that long list of voices speaking out about the horrible conditions under which prisoners labour, many would have turned up their eyes in indifference: “Let them wallow in their crimes!”
But for we who are Christians, we ought to remember that we follow a God-human leader who in Matthew 25 pointedly reminds us we must not forget prisoners. We are not free to disregard the Lord on this point. Has the Church at times been too preoccupied with the rights of prisoners and not enough with the rights of victims? Of course! The movie Dead Man Walking brings that out. The nun Sr Helen Prejean who was trying to get Matthew Poncelet’s death sentence commuted to life imprisonment, came to a new level of consciousness when she realised she was not sufficiently sensitive to the pain of the families of the two children that Poncelet had murdered. She is a symbol of the Church, always maturing in justice and mercy.