Karen House Catholic Worker
Barred from Life: The Criminal “Justice” System
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Why This Issue:
We walk together towards a large gate. On either side of
the gate are imposing walls and even larger towers. At the top
of each wall are rows of nasty looking razor wire, and masked
guards stand at attention with very big guns. We try to see
beyond the barrier in front of us to catch a glimpse of life on
the other side, but the gate blocks all vision. On the door is a
sign that says...
"Stop where you are. Do not go any further.
Going beyond this point will not be tolerated;
beyond here is a world of deprivation, violence
and filth. Turn back now!"
Our guide though knows another way, and whispers to
us, “This is not the only way. Have hope there is another
way. Now that we have seen this hell let us go together to a
different place, a place where there is still hope.”
Please forgive my dramatic literary musing but as I think
about our issue, and look at the prison-industrial complex, I
can’t help but think in such stark visions of hope and despair.
We are looking and talking about prisons, and the why is
very simple. We wrote this issue, because when we stopped
and honestly looked at prisons and ourselves we couldn’t
take the despair and pain anymore and needed to try and
spread hope and a different way. We wrote this issue to say
that there is another way, through all the bars, rules, pain and
despair there is another way of hope and compassion. We
wrote this issue because we saw the statistics of how many
people were in the prison-industrial system, and we couldn’t
ignore it anymore. We wrote this issue because even after
putting aside the philosophical reasoning and the unjust
statistics we couldn’t ignore the glaring reality of the prison
system and its affect on our guests, neighbors, and friends.
The prison-industrial complex and criminal justice system that
it supports are broken, flawed to its core. We wrote this issue
to show that there is another way other than “locking them
up.” We wrote this issue because we still believe that people
In this issue, Jenny Truax takes a good hard look at the
state of the prison-industrial system. While Mary Ann
McGivern opens us up to what it is like trying to adjust after
prison time. Jamala Roger shows us a different way in an
article on alternatives to prison and restorative justice. In
addition, Teka Childress and Tina Busch Nema offer personal
stories to remind us that these really are our brothers and
sisters behind bars. Colleen Cunningham talks to us about
the harsh reality of the final judgment of our criminal system,
the death penalty. In our Karen House tradition, we also want
to talk about things closer to home, and to that point Megan
Heeney shows us resistance in the Catholic Worker movement.
While Annjie Schiefelbein and Sarah Sunseri tell us
how Karen House and Kabat House are doing.
As I said before, the reason for this issue was simple,
but the reality of the situation is not. The reality of the prison
industrial system puts on a nice front as a “necessity for
society” but the truth of the system is hidden away, not
talked about, and discounted. Please read this issue to learn
more about the reality, and consider joining us in working to
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