“Letter to Fr. Brown” by Tray

Dear Father Brown,

How delightful and pleasant it was to see you last night. It would be my honor and privilege to participate in your class via correspondence… to the extent that it is possible.

I’ve read your Catholic Social Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition. The various remarks from the Noble Peace Prize Laureates were impressive and eye-opening.  I’m consistently amazed by the widespread suffering … end how too few of us try to alleviate it. I suppose, for those of us most inclined to help the multitude of folks suffering throughout the world, we simply don’t know who to help. (So we end up helping no one.) Where do we start? Do we try to feed the starving children in Africa, first? What about the persecuted in the Middle-East? the disenfranchised and marginalized here, at home, in America? Who should I award my limited time and resources?

Don’t let those important questions leave you immobile and inept. Help those closest to you Those whom voices and cry for help is so insistent it melts your heart.

Always remember, and forever be mindful to our Lord and Saviour’s words,What you do to the least among you, you also do unto me …. ” That divine caveat persuades me that I’m serving God when I lend aid to someone less fortunate than myself. Thus, our self-interest is greatly protected when we serve others who need our help.

When I read Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass IncarcerationIn an Era of Colorblindness” I constantly asked myself: “How can a benevolent society, rooted in Christian principles, allow so many of its citizens to endure such degradation?

Do you recall the often-told story about Fiorello LaGuardia? He was a mayor of New York City in early 1940′s.  When LaGuardia was officiating in misdemeanor court in New York City, a man who had stolen bread to feed his family came before him charged as a thief. LaGuardia fined the man $10, then turned to the courtroom and said, “I’m fining everyone in this courtroom 50 cents for living in a city where a man has to steal bread in order to eat …” The criminal defendant left the court with $47.50 in his pocket.

The sapient LaGuardia would likely be disgusted at how this nation has criminalized a huge segment of its citizenry fly disenfranchising them then committing them to the fringe or margins of society through poverty and incarceration.  Michelle Alexander’s work, The New Jim Crow, explains and, in many ways — justifies — black folks’ seemingly insurmountable challenges in America “The New Jim Crow” by far, is the mast informative — and yet, irrelevant — book I’ve ever read. In 1980, when I was twelve years old, the United States Government, the most powerful government the world has ever known, declared then waged a war against me. Wow! That’s why I’ve been in prison my entire life. I’ve always known that something sinful, sinister, and shameful had been done to me and to folks like me. Michelle Alexander simply explained with scholarship and eloquence exactly what had been done to me. (I’m truly grateful to her for that.)

At our nation’s inception, during its inchoation, poor folks were pitted against each other. Wealthy Europeans were [and are] undeniably clever. They have traditionally used wicked means to obtain and maintain Wealth and power. Niccolo Machiavelli, I’m sure, would be impressed with the Faustian deal certain Americans made at the expanse of so many others for ephemeral wealth, power, and privilege.

Michelle Alexander gave us; through her work, a historical account of how than wealthy planters gave poor whites a racial bribe. A caste system was created based almost entirely on race. White Americans were placed higher on the hierarchical scale than blacks. But no economic shift occurred. The rich were to remain rich and the poor were to remain poor. Poor whites, of course, were to be more estimable than blacks. Blacks were relegated to slavery and their poor white counterpart were to supervise them. That’s it! ”Watch the slaves, make sure that they work hard and produce greater wealth for me, the wealthy planters bargained.

Poor whites accepted that deal.  That agreement (bribe) kept them one step above the black slaves in the caste system… and it assured (or ensured) the wealthy planters that poor whites and poor blacks would not unite to demand greater access to the wealth.  (That was a clever deal).

Once slavery died its natural death, ‘cause God ain’t gonna just allow evil to run rampant and unchecked, Jim Crow was created.  Poor whites and poor blacks were pitted against each other in another, upgraded, way.  A prison system was created whereby recently released and objectively impoverished former slaves were carted off to jails and prisons and forced to work for no wages.  After World War II, Jim Crow became abysmally embarrassing to America.  Hence, legal segregation had to end.  Now, we’re in an era of (color-blind) mass incarceration.

Folks who look like me couldn’t be discriminated against – disenfranchised or marginalized — simply because of the color or our skin.  A sophism had to be employed … one like none ever. If America was to become the SuperPower, she must kill with leniency.  For most of us will fail to see the hand that kills with leniency [so careless we are with our souls].  That’s probably what prompted Einstein’s observation: “The world is in granter peril of those who tolerate evil more than by those who actually commit evil.”

Mass incarceration is inherently evil. He live in a nation that has criminalized black. The [pseudo] war on drugs has devastated my community in more harsh ways than slavery and legalized segregation.  More black folks are locked up and locked out of mainstream America than ever before.

When you walk into this prison, Father, and see that 85% to 90% of its inmate population is black, what does that tell you? Something is disastrously wrong — and perhaps, even evil is afoot.

Oh well, at least, I do owe it to Michelle Alexander that I’m less unsettled about my current situation and plight. You know how it is oft said that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know (?). For me, it has always been that the more I know, the more unsettled I become when I come across things I don’t know about.  Perhaps that’s the vanity that the sagacious Ecclesiastes wrote about.

Saint Augustine, a favorite of yours, I’m willing to bet, concluded, “You Have made us for yourself, O’ Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Absent God in our lives, we’ll pursue all manner of wickedness and evil. Those of us who are pure in heart and knowledgeable as to the prevailing evil that causes so much human suffering and misery must speak up and against the wrongs we see.

“In the end, ” as Martin Luther King Jr.” so eloquently said, “it’s not the words of our enemy that we’ll remember, but the silence of our friends.”… When I go to bed at night – - lonely and feeling the emptiness and pain that are inherent to a prisoner’s life –·I wish it was because of folks’ hatred toward me as opposed to their indifference. For I’m thoroughly convince that the essence of man’s inhumanity to man isn’t hatred. It’s indifference… (I pray that your work, Father Brown, in the classrooms and in your ministry sparks passion and rid some hearts of indifference.)

It’s been two months or more since I read the New Jim Crow, and I don’t have a copy of it on hand. I can’t possibly offer an exegesis on it. Heck I doubt that I could offer an exegesis on it if I had it on hand.  What Michelle Alexander wrote about affects me very personally. I might unfairly excoriate a segment of our population if you invite me to.  And, of course, that’s no way to resolve our societal Gordian knot.

With love and gratitude,

I am

Most sincerely yours,

Tray

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