Very late at evening, practically a decade in the past, I discovered myself accountable for gathering cash to publish bail for practically 100 individuals in Boston. These have been all people who had been arrested as a part of the Occupy Boston encampment. The Mass Bail Fund was nonetheless in its toddler phases. Money merely needed to be collected from all these gathered. As residents of a largely Catholic metropolis, Bostonians gravitated towards sharing their money with the person in a clerical collar. Whereas I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister, that was not the second for theological dialogue. If I wanted to be seen as a priest, referred to as “father” a few occasions, so be it. The funds have been collected, and the individuals have been launched. However is the necessity for fundraising for bail coming to an finish?
Nationwide consideration has turned to Illinois after the passage of the Pretrial Equity Act. As earlier Truthout contributors have already noted, there’s a lot to have a good time and but there’s nonetheless extra work to be finished. I discover myself questioning, What’s the position of individuals of religion and non secular communities on this second? As money bail begins to finish, how will we be certain that persons are getting free and jails are closing down?
Throughout the nation, practically three-quarters of these held in jails are held pretrial. In Illinois, that quantity is nearer to 90 %, the overwhelming majority Black. Because the Pretrial Equity Act strikes towards implementation, closures of county jails throughout the state will turn out to be an excellent higher political risk. That is the place religion communities could be each an asset and an impediment.
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By now it has turn out to be considerably frequent data that faith, significantly Protestant Christianity, holds an unlimited quantity of the accountability for creating the white supremacist mass incarceration system in america. Grassroots organizers, faith leaders and academic scholars have all highlighted the culpability of American faith within the disaster we reside in at the moment. With the rising jail reform and abolition actions, non secular communities are enjoying complicated roles in each increasing the carceral methods and resisting them.
Religion-based initiatives in prisons have sprung up not solely in america, however throughout the globe. The Christian supremacist group Prison Fellowship, based by former Nixon aide Charles W. Colson, has applications in prisons all throughout america and all through the world. These are applications that declare “to return prisoners to their proper relationship with Christ” and prepared them to be ethical residents. This multimillion-dollar “nonprofit” claims to be preventing to finish mass incarceration, however this system mannequin thrives on the revolving doorways of prisons.
A hazard dealing with these working to finish pretrial incarceration is the event of recent faith-based applications that reinforce carceral practices, Christian hegemony, white supremacy, queer/trans-antagonism, and a large number of different oppressions. As these dealing with pretrial incarceration seek for justification for his or her launch, connection to problematic faith-based social service businesses can turn out to be one of many few choices affirmed by the court docket.
What may religion communities do as a substitute of looking for funding to run applications in collaboration with brokers of the prison-industrial complicated?
Muslim leaders within the Chicago-based Believers Bail Out provide a mannequin of faith-based abolitionist organizing. Rooting themselves within the custom of zakat, one of many 5 tenants of Islam that requires solidarity and piety via the sharing of wealth, organizers encourage sibling Muslims to contribute financially to efforts that may free incarcerated Muslims. On its website, inviting others to hitch in, the group provides this theological reflection, “Muslims utilizing their cash to free different Muslims from bondage has an extended historical past and carries religious rewards. In the course of the time of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, the emancipation of the enslaved, releasing these in bondage, was at all times thought-about a noble act.”
As the necessity for money to pay bail begins to go away, Believers Bail Out is evident that reinforcing carceral practices in faith-based applications is not going to be a part of the group’s future. In a statement launched on June 22, 2020, organizers affirmed a dedication to abolition, together with supporting #8toAbolition. The affirmation particularly lifts up the assertion that, “the tip aim of those reforms is to not create a greater, friendlier, or extra community-oriented police or prisons. As a substitute, we hope to construct towards a society with out police or prisons, the place communities are outfitted to supply for his or her security and well-being.” Leaders in Believers Bail Out usually are not imagining prisons with Muslim-specific wings or Muslim-led applications that associate with the Prepare dinner County Sheriff’s Division. As a substitute, they’re connecting to the abolitionist theologies that information work for collective liberation and freedom.
Following within the Catholic Worker custom and the visions of Dorothy Day, the Abolition Apostles are additionally providing one other non secular different to faith-based carceral applications. The group’s applications are clear and invite members to plug in with ease. Central to this work is a pen-pal program, guaranteeing that each one these concerned on the surface of jail are in genuine relationships with these behind the wall. Abolition Apostles encourages materials support and prisons visits. The group can also be partaking in direct advocacy for people, using their community to collect letters of help for parole and different efforts to safe quick freedom. They’re constructing out a reentry help program and have plans to create a home of hospitality for these visiting family members behind bars. Most of these applications middle the wants and management of these most immediately affected by the violence of the prison-industrial complicated. The Abolition Apostles root themselves of their Christian theology and accomplish that with an expansive method that welcomes theological variety.
These current organizations usually are not the one abolitionist choices obtainable for religion communities. The New Sanctuary Movement has proven the facility of non secular organizations providing sanctuary to immigrants/migrants resisting deportation. The sanctuary toolkit opens with quotes from sacred texts belonging to the biggest three Abrahamic traditions. Whereas particularly targeted on immigration/migration solidarity, the legacy of non secular communities hiding individuals from the state dates again to the 18th century, when some church buildings provided sanctuary to Black individuals who had escaped slavery.
Can we think about a community of non secular communities that would offer sanctuary to somebody, or many someones, avoiding pretrial incarceration? Such motion can be the alternative of colluding with carceral buildings. As a substitute, offering sanctuary on this approach locations non secular organizations in an antagonistic relationship with the state by selecting freedom and liberation for individuals over assimilation into the prison-industrial complicated. Congregations across the nation, together with the First Unitarian Church in Louisville, supplied protected house for protesters in the course of the summer time and fall protests of 2020. These acts of defiance show that there’s risk and potential in religion group resistance to the prison-industrial complicated.
As a parish minister, I’ve the blessing to serve a congregation made up of gorgeous, devoted and passionate individuals. We’re having conversations about what it means to defund the police, apply transformative justice and picture the chances of abolition. With extra reforms coming to the legal authorized system, religion communities should make a selection between reinforcing the carceral state or resisting it. It’s a ethical crucial that we select the aspect of justice, liberation and freedom.