Ignatian News Network: Fr. Ciszek

Dear Campus Ministers,

Warm greetings from the Jesuit Conference! This week, we are pleased to unveil a short mini-documentary from the Ignatian News Network on Fr. Walter Ciszek, available
now on our Jesuit Vocation Promotion Month website at www.jesuit.org/ciszek.
The video showcases the Ignatian News Network’s extensive archival research on
Fr. Ciszek and features an interview with Jesuit Father Daniel Flaherty, Fr.
Ciszek’s co-author on his two autobiographies. A brief post on the video is
currently the lead story on our blog, National Jesuit News.

Please continue to watch for updates from the Conference as Jesuit Vocation Promotion Month progresses, and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

Kind regards,

Doris Yu

Two companies accused of discrimination in hiring

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Tuesday accused two major companies of indirectly discriminating against African Americans by using criminal background checks to screen out workers.

The commission said BMW effectively fired 70 black employees with criminal histories from a facility in South Carolina, even though many had been there for years. One woman with 14 years under her belt was let go after a misdemeanor conviction surfaced that was more than 20 years old and carried a $137 fine, according to the EEOC’s lawsuit.

EEOC says firms used criminal background checks to screen out workers, most of whom were black.

The agency also alleged that retailer Dollar General revoked job offers to two black women after conducting criminal background checks. In one case, the EEOC said that the records were inaccurate but that Dollar General declined to reconsider the woman’s application. The other involved a six-year-old drug conviction.

“It is a fairness issue,” said David Lopez, the commission’s general counsel. “Litigation is really, truly the last resort.”

The growing use of criminal background checks in hiring decisions has become a flash point in the broader debate over high unemployment rates among African Americans. Not only did blacks lose more jobs and more wealth than other racial groups during the recession, they also have struggled to gain a foothold in the recovery — an issue some community leaders have called the next front in the civil rights movement. A criminal record, advocates say, is an economic scarlet letter that can send otherwise qualified applicants to the bottom of the pile.

The EEOC lawsuits were brought under the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against job applicants on the basis of race. Both BMW and Dollar General denied the allegations and said they complied with all laws.

Although the commission said employers are allowed to conduct background checks, it charged that the companies’ blanket policies of not hiring candidates with criminal records amounted to discrimination against African Americans. Justice Department statistics show that blacks accounted for 37 percent of those behind bars last year, even though they make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population.

The EEOC is not alone in focusing on the role of criminal background checks in black employment. Since the recession, seven states — including Maryland — have adopted laws that prohibit employers from including questions about criminal history on job applications.

The movement has been nicknamed “ban the box,” after the box that offenders often are required to mark. Bills are pending in four other states, and at least a dozen local governments have enacted versions of the ban. Business groups have not mounted organized opposition to the measures.

Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Prince George’s), the leader of Maryland’s Legislative Black Caucus, helped spearhead the legislation, which applies only to state government jobs. She said the tight employment market is the top concern in her community, and she connects the problem to the county’s high rates of foreclosure and crime. Helping people find jobs is the first step to addressing broader issues, she said.

They should pay . . . but should they pay for it for the rest of their lives?” Braveboy said. “We have a responsibility as a society to provide people with opportunities to be gainfully employed and to make better choices.”The link between race and crime has long been a highly charged and difficult debate rooted in factors such as discrimination and socioeconomic status. The EEOC emphasized that companies have a right to consider criminal history in hiring. Guidelines updated last year say that when evaluating job candidates, employers should weigh the nature of a crime, how long ago it occurred and its relation to the position. Offenders are generally prohibited from working in day-care facilities or prisons, for example.

But the EEOC said it is wary of the way hiring policies can disproportionately hurt minorities.

A landmark study by Princeton sociologist Devah Pager found that white offenders were only half as likely to get a callback from a potential employer and that the effect was even greater for blacks. A separate study by the Pew Center on the States found that even when offenders do land jobs, men with criminal histories earn about 40 percent less than those in similar circumstances without records.

A survey last year by the Society for Human Resource Management, an industry group, found that more than two-thirds of companies conduct criminal background checks. About a quarter of them said nonviolent misdemeanors, such as drug convictions, could influence their hiring decisions, and 60 percent reported that violent crimes could disqualify a candidate. Almost all indicated reluctance to hire someone who had been convicted of a violent felony such as murder. A majority said they allow candidates to explain their records.

In a statement Tuesday, BMW said it has “complied with the letter and spirit of the law” and touted its diverse workforce.

According to the lawsuit, the automaker banned those convicted of crimes ranging from murder to drug use to “theft, dishonesty and moral turpitude.” In 2008, when BMW switched contractors that were handling logistics at its facility in Spartanburg, S.C., it asked employees to reapply for their jobs under BMW’s criminal-background policy. The EEOC suit said 88 people were not rehired. Eighty percent of them were African American.

In its case against Dollar General, the EEOC said the low-price retailer does not adequately evaluate criminal records when hiring. The result was that 10 percent of offers made to black candidates were rescinded after a background check, compared with 7 percent of offers to whites.

In a statement, Dollar General said it seeks to foster “a safe and healthy environment” through its background checks.

But Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said too many minorities are running into roadblocks.

“It’s such a tough economy that there’s a lot of concern about the barriers that people are facing to employment beyond the fact that there’s just not enough jobs,” she said.

Ryan Moragneel of Baltimore was 18 when he received a felony conviction for distributing marijuana. A few years later, he was put on probation after robbing a pawnshop with some friends. In 2011, he received a misdemeanor charge and spent several months in jail. He said employers take one look at his history and toss his application aside.

“I never really got a chance to be an adult without a record,” Moragneel said. “I’ve never been hired off a computer.”

Now 30 with two kids, Moragneel is set to graduate this month from a skills training program in Baltimore that he hopes will open the door to a job in electrical engineering. If he could talk to an employer, he said, he would say that he has learned from his mistakes and wants to move ahead.

But that can happen only if he lands an interview.

“So far,” Moragneel said, “it’s no calls back.”

By: Ylan Q. Mui


The God of Ambition: From Princeton to Prison to Faith

They say you can’t find atheists in fox-holes. You find even fewer in jail. A soldier can try to leave the battle-field; inmates have no such option. It’s a cliche and hardly admirable, but jail often cultivates “belief” in a power greater than one’s own.

Avoiding prayers to Jesus and other expressions of piety on the prison bus to Niantic, Connecticut, one snowy Friday night in December 2007 seemed neatly impossible. I was riding with twenty other women, whose heads all seemed bowed in prayer. They had traveled this way before and had the routine down pat. But it was my first trip, and my eyes and thoughts were focused elsewhere. I had just been convicted of identity theft and illegal use of a credit card, and was being shipped to York Correctional Institution. So 1 was searching for whatever reasonable options were left to me to get out of this mess.

God is not supposed to be the last resort, I reasoned. You shouldn’t summon his power only after you’ve landed in prison. I had never been a friend to God, and it’s wrong to treat him like a waiter, hovering there until you need your glass refilled. So praying for deliverance on the way to jail would have made me feel inauthentic; 1 would have been a user, not a believer.

Read the rest of the article…

By: Chandra Bozelko

Behind bars, ethics lessons

‘I was trying to convey to them there’s a way to be free, in a sense, even in prison’

-Kevin Brien, Washington College philosophy professor

Inmates at the Jessup Correctional Institution attend a class on ethics in art history, taught by Donald McColl of Washington College. Thirty-two inmates, the majority serving life sentences, were involved in the program, the idea of a Washington College student.

College student’s philosophy program brings Plato and Buddha to a Md. prison

College student\’s philosophy program brings Plato and Buddha to Jessup prison

After a Sentence to Write Sentences, Dr. Bodnar Ends a Legal Chapter


When former pharmaceutical executive Andrew G. Bodnar pleaded guilty to white-collar crime in 2009, the judge didn’t throw the book at him—he ordered him to write one.

Reflect upon “the criminal behavior in this case so that others similarly situated may be guided in avoiding such behavior,” said the judgment from U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina in Washington. And make it 75,000 words.

The finished book, written during Dr. Bodnar’s two-year probation, has been submitted into the court record. His lawyer—who says he had never heard of such a punishment for a crime—says the former Bristol-Myers Squibb executive has now completed his sentence, in a case in which he was accused of providing false information to regulators. The charge stemmed from negotiations with a generic drug company seeking to copy Bristol’s blockbuster blood thinner, Plavix.

Dr. Bodnar, 64 years old, didn’t serve any jail time. He was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and serve two years of unsupervised probation, with a “special condition” that he write the book.

Upon reflection, the former Harvard English major isn’t so sure his experience could serve as a cautionary tale for others.

“This hell is so particular, that no judge’s order could ever generalize it,” writes Dr. Bodnar in his tome.

Setting out to tell his tale, he contemplated the literary works of several greats. In a prologue he writes that he considered “Call me a Schlemiel.” Or, “It was the worst of times,” as opening lines.

In the book, Dr. Bodnar describes reading Dickens’ “David Copperfield” as a child. At Harvard, he wrote his honors thesis on “The End of Life in Dickens.” Other literary influences, says his lawyer, include Dostoevski, Joseph Conrad and John Updike.

The sweeping 253-page manuscript details Dr. Bodnar’s life from his escape from his native Hungary after the Soviet invasion of 1956, to his dust up with law enforcement over Plavix’s patent.

The Justice Department had a “mistaken belief that I had made a statement to the government that I knew to be false,” wrote Dr. Bodnar, who declined to be interviewed for this article. He wrote that the Justice Department “was not averse to destroying an innocent life.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the contents of Dr. Bodnar’s book, or to say whether prosecutors had read it.

The book includes colorful characters like “a tough U.S. Attorney” named Chris Christie, who questioned Dr. Bodnar in connection with the Plavix case. The exchange took place just a few years before Mr. Christie would rise to national political stardom as the governor of New Jersey. Dr. Bodnar describes undergoing “animated and intensive questioning” from Mr. Christie.

A spokesman for Mr. Christie said Dr. Bodnar’s description of their interaction was accurate.

The book is told in a series of third-person flashbacks to his immigrant success story—as an eight-year-old he hid in a hay cart and dashed across a bridge to escape Hungary to Austria—juxtaposed with a first-person, behind-the-scenes account of the Plavix case.

The manuscript was electronically entered into the court docket in October, making it available through the federal court system’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records.

Dr. Bodnar currently has no plans to find a publisher, according to his lawyer.

It isn’t uncommon for judges to mete out unconventional sentences.

In April, an Alabama circuit court judge ordered a man accused of receiving stolen property to serve three days in jail for contempt of court for wearing sagging pants during a hearing. In 2008, a housing-court judge in Cleveland, Ohio, ordered a landlord accused of building-code violations to serve six months of house arrest in one of his dilapidated rental properties.

Since the 1990s, a municipal judge in Fort Lupton, Colo., has sounded off on teenagers accused of blasting too-loud music. His prescription calls for them to listen to the ballads of crooners like Barry Manilow.

Still, compelled authorship strikes some legal experts as highly unusual. “I’ve never seen anyone be ordered as a condition of probation to write a book,” says Brien O’Connor, a former federal prosecutor who is now a white-collar criminal defense attorney. Mr. O’Connor, who isn’t involved in Dr. Bodnar’s case, sees an element of “public shaming” to the sentence.

Judge Urbina declined to comment.

Plavix, used to ward off heart attacks and strokes in people with cardiovascular disease, is one of the best-selling drugs in history. The drug’s $6.8 billion in U.S. sales last year, as tallied by IMS Health, ranked second behind Pfizer Inc.’s Lipitor cholesterol pill. But Plavix will lose U.S. patent protection on May 17, which will trigger competition from generic drug makers.

Dr. Bodnar’s story hearkens to a time when Plavix’s success was in peril.

Another drug maker, Apotex, wanted to sell a generic copy of Plavix years before the patent was to expire. Dr. Bodnar, then a senior vice president at Bristol-Myers, helped negotiate a proposed agreement of patent litigation in 2006.

But the deal required antitrust clearance from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and state regulators. That is when Dr. Bodnar entered a new chapter of his life.

Dr. Bodnar signed a certification verifying with the FTC certain aspects of the proposed settlement. Later the Justice Department alleged Dr. Bodnar had made oral representations to an Apotex executive that weren’t spelled out in the written agreement—contradicting the signed certification.

In the book, Dr. Bodnar writes that he learned during a business trip in July 2006 that FBI agents were raiding his office at Bristol-Myers’s Park Avenue headquarters.

“Chaos reigns but, as I will soon learn, this is as nothing compared to the vacuum that is about to suck the air from my every breath for years to come,” Dr. Bodnar writes of that day.

A Bristol-Myers spokeswoman declined to comment on the contents of Dr. Bodnar’s book. An Apotex spokesman also declined to comment.

The proposed Plavix patent settlement fell apart. Dr. Bodnar left Bristol-Myers in 2007, shortly before the company pleaded guilty to providing false statements to the government and paid a $1 million fine.

In 2009, Dr. Bodnar pleaded guilty to providing a false certificate to the government.

Dr. Bodnar reiterates in his book that he believed the certification to be true at the time he signed it.

The process of writing the book triggered “intensive introspection” for Dr. Bodnar, says his lawyer Elkan Abramowitz.

Indeed, the last line of the book flirts with destiny: “I have my brief ready for submission to my next judge.”

By: Peter Loftus

Cleared in the Rape of a Central Park Jogger, but Still Calculating the Cost

Antron McCray climbed on stage in a Manhattan theater one night last week and stepped into the kind of spotlight that, until now, has almost always meant trouble for him.

Exiled from New York, his hometown, Mr. McCray was last seen in public two decades ago as a skinny 16-year-old, practically drowning in a suit that he wore to the Manhattan courthouse where he was tried on charges that he was part of a mob that raped a jogger in Central Park and beat her nearly to death in April 1989. In the television news footage, he often held his mother’s hand as he walked past screaming demonstrators.

With four other Harlem boys, all of whom refused plea bargains, he was convicted of attacking the jogger and sent to prison. More than a decade later, the convictions of all five were overturned. Another man — a serial rapist and killer who was unknown to any of the five — had convincingly implicated himself as the sole attacker of the jogger. DNA evidence backed his story.

This Friday, “The Central Park Five,” a documentary film on the case by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, opens in three Manhattan theaters.

Alone of the five, Mr. McCray declined to be interviewed on camera for the film, unwilling to lift the veil. Instead, his recorded voice is heard. As soon as he could after prison, Mr. McCray moved to the South. He works as a forklift operator, is a father, pays his taxes.

He stepped back into the public eye last Thursday for a screening of the film at the closing night of the Doc NYC festival.

The audience that had just seen him as a boy — in a baseball uniform, in a police precinct station house being interrogated, in the too-big suit going to court — and had listened to his voice throughout the film could now see him as a man. At 39, his shoulders were broader, and his waist a bit thicker.

There was something he wanted to tell the audience about his anonymity.

“Here’s the reason why I escaped New York: I just had to get away,” Mr. McCray said. “Start a new life.”

That logic took him to a shocking place.

“Actually, uh,” he said, “I don’t even go by Antron McCray no more.”

Saying that out loud seemed to take even Mr. McCray by surprise, a sudden tolling of what he lost. Words thickened in his mouth. On either side of him, two of the other men, Kevin Richardson and Yusef Salaam, squeezed his shoulders and patted his back.

The film lays out the intricacies of the case, the sights and sounds of a brittle era; it will be full of revelations for those who never knew about the crime and how its life-bending effects were multiplied as the wrong people were prosecuted while the right man continued to maim, murder and rape on the Upper East Side.

The filmmakers follow the story far beyond the procedural failures identified by journalists interviewed in the film, including me. Kharey Wise, by far the scrawniest of the group, happened to be the only one old enough to spend all his time in adult jail and prison. Raymond Santana said he cursed God and lost his faith.

With Mr. McCray, they tunnel into Shakespearean territory.

“I thought he was like a superhero,” Mr. McCray said of his father, Bobby. “He coached all of my Little League teams. He was a great teacher.”

By the time of the trial, though, the man Mr. McCray had idolized had abandoned him and his mother.

“I couldn’t understand,” he said. “And I just, I hated him after that. Me and my mother started going to court by ourself. Demonstrators, you know people just shouting, you know, ‘Rapist!’ ‘You animal!’ ‘You don’t deserve to be alive.’ It just felt like the whole world hated us.”

His parents reconciled, but when Mr. McCray came home from prison, he would not accept his father’s apologies, even as his father grew ill and died.

“Seeing him laying there, it just hit me. You know, he used to be my best friend.”

Offstage last week Mr. McCray said: “I wish I had forgiven him. Me being older, and me being a father.”

He told the audience it had taken him a long time to decide to give the filmmakers a chance.

“Like Ray said in the film, I lost my religion, I don’t believe in anything, I’m by myself,” Mr. McCray said. “But tonight — I think that might change.”

He wiped his face, then smiled.

“I may be 39,” he said, “but I’m still kind of shy.”

E-mail: dwyer@nytimes.com

Twitter: @jimdwyernyt


Class Photo: ‘The Central Park Five’ & ’56 UP’

Most Americans forty or older will recall the 1989 case of the young woman brutalized by a rampaging mob of teenagers while jogging in Central Park. Coming amid soaring crime rates, the attack spawned a scary neologism, “wilding,” and mass public revulsion that took on a racial tinge when five black and Hispanic teenagers quickly confessed. I recall the news images of teenaged males being hustled out of police stations, heads down; like nearly everyone else, I shook my head at how depraved they were, and how guilty.

Read the rest of the article…

The Caging of America

A prison is a trap for catching time. Good reporting appears often about the inner life of the American prison, but the catch is that American prison life is mostly undramatic—the reported stories fail to grab us, because, for the most part, nothing happens. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich is all you need to know about Ivan Denisovich, because the idea that anyone could live for a minute in such circumstances seems impossible; one day in the life of an American prison means much less, because the force of it is that one day typically stretches out for decades. It isn’t the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prisons unendurable for their inmates. The inmates on death row in Texas are called men in “timeless time,” because they alone aren’t serving time: they aren’t waiting out five years or a decade or a lifetime. The basic reality of American prisons is not that of the lock and key but that of the lock and clock.

That’s why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia—anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded. “Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard, / Some of us are prisoners, some of us are guards,” Dylan sings, and while it isn’t strictly true—just ask the prisoners—it contains a truth: the guards are doing time, too. As a smart man once wrote after being locked up, the thing about jail is that there are bars on the windows and they won’t let you out. This simple truth governs all the others. What prisoners try to convey to the free is how the presence of time as something being done to you, instead of something you do things with, alters the mind at every moment. For American prisoners, huge numbers of whom are serving sentences much longer than those given for similar crimes anywhere else in the civilized world—Texas alone has sentenced more than four hundred teen-agers to life imprisonment—time becomes in every sense this thing you serve.

For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.

Read More!

By: Adam Gopnik


Surrender is the true story of the vocation of an American Jesuit priest, accused by the Soviet era K.G.B. of being a Vatican spy, who survived fifteen years of hard labor in Siberian prison camps. Father Walter Ciszek not only survived but learned to surrender to God’s Providence.

Surrender is a narrative digest book based entirely on Father Ciszek’s two books: With God in Russia, (1964), published one year after his release from Russia, and his second book, He Leadeth Me, (1973), published nine years later. Surrender interweaves these two books and telescopes the most dramatic events of Father Ciszek’s vocation and steadfast fidelity to that calling through the crucible of unjust imprisonment following the end of World War II.

The profound insights of Father Ciszek’s second book illuminate the grim facts of his first book. Surrender attempts to highlight the evolution of spiritual wisdom in He Leadeth Me, embedded in the harsh events depicted in With God in Russia. Hopefully, through the relative brevity of Surrender, the major chords of Father Ciszek’s heroic embrace of God’s Providence in the most extreme conditions will resonate. The reason why Father Ciszek’s cause for Canonization, the process of declaration of Sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church, is currently proceeding should be abundantly evident.

Surrender describes not the triumph of human will-power but the freedom of total dependence on God. The paradox of power to love is only born in the powerlessness of surrender of self-will to God’s Providence.

Written by: Seamus Dockery