What if the Death Penalty was No More

I just finished reading an article at Huffington Post titled, “What Kind of People Might We Become if We Stopped Killing Killers?” by Rita Nakashima Brock.

In the article she speaks to making decisions knowing that whomever is sentenced will definitely be returned to society. What would we do differently if we KNOW that a killer will be living in our midst again? We can no longer say, “he’s locked away for good, throw away the key!” We must refocus our efforts on making it safe for us to be around the incarcerated, not by building more walls, but by changing the person who did such a horrible act.

How do you change the person? How do we change ourselves to have the heart to change this person? How do we change our community so that it will build stepping-stones of success rather than throwing stones of condemnation?

If you KNEW that the Green River killer would be returned to the community in 25 years, what would your response to him be? Would you stand by and throw stones? Throw up your hands in despair? Or would you begin the work of creating a compassionate heart within this killer’s chest? Of creating an accountability process for his eventual return to society?

What if you are with a child who has not crossed the line to murderer, but has committed enough crime to be incarcerated for a lengthy period? And that child has exhibited no emotions or regret? We know that child will be returned to society without fail. And yet we continue to cut funding for counselors, probation officers, parole officers, therapists, and education. Will this child get the treatment needed to create success? Recidivism rates say no.

Would you do anything differently if you knew every person in prison would be returning to your neighborhood?

A Small Kindness from Detention

Recently, I was visiting with a young man (14) in a secure facility-group home. He and I chit-chatted for about an hour. We talked about who he was and what kind of personality he has–what kind of work or career would suit his very leader-y and playful self! Although I didn’t say it out loud, because no teenager wants to hear these words, I thought, “You have so many pages of your days as yet unwritten. You will find something if you let yourself.”

After our talk, he went into the kitchen while I organized my stuff and got ready to leave. Then I went  back to the kitchen to let him know how proud I am of him. After all, he has known me for about a month now and he is willing to sit with me, do service  community hours, and to go to a church party! Hey, my own kids won’t go to a church party!

I think he thought I was crazy. Then the remarkable happened.

This was the Saturday directly after Thanksgiving (just a few days ago). He had been able to visit with his family. His grandmother brought him a sweet potato pie. He was dishing up a piece for himself. I didn’t know that this was HIS pie made by HIS grandma when I first saw him getting the pie out of the fridge. I assumed it was a community pie. I talked, he listened, then he offered me a piece of his pie.

Perhaps this sweet potato pie was really humble pie.

I was humbled by his offer. (And yes! I took it!) I told him I had never had sweet potato pie (true). And actually, my family had never had it. Then I told him I would take this slice home to my family and we would share it.

His face was filled with pleasure.

His small kindness warmed my heart. Perhaps the sharing of pie was more than a small kindness, but was a sharing of hearts and families as he shared his grandmother with my children. Maybe this is really what Jesus meant when he said, “Take, eat. This is a sign of the new covenant.”

From Just Detention International: Words of Hope

In the spirit of Writing Our Way Home‘s invitation to share a small kindness, I am issuing the invitation to become a small kindness. Please consider writing a note of encouragement to men and women who are survivors of prison rape. This is a serious issue and they could use your words of hope, kindness, and encouragement.

Words of Hope: http://www.justdetention.org/en/words-of-hope.aspx

Writing Our Way Home:  http://www.writingourwayhome.com/p/small-kindnesses-blogs-taking-part.html

(Also, please be sure and check out the free e-book that Fiona Robyn is offering at Writing Our Way Home.)


Cradle to Prison Pipeline

The cradle to prison pipeline is the idea that we have a system that is geared to carry youth of a certain socio-economic status from cradle to prison. It is seen in such behaviors such as contracting private prison providers based on 3rd grade reading levels. They don’t FIX the reading issue, they pay a contract based on the issue.  Hmm.

Even more difficult is the transition from youth detention to adult incarceration when it happens midstream for a youth. I met today with one such young woman. She is being sent to the adult prison. She is not allowed to take anything, ANYTHING, with her. Not even a Bible (or other sacred writing). Ridiculous. How hard is it to keep track of a box of stuff? Someone transitioning through what is probably the scariest thing they will do cannot even have the comfort of a favorite book. Hmm.

So, please pray and send your best thoughts of support for L. who is moving on to be with the adults on Wednesday. It will be a tough day for her.

My Heart is Strangely Warmed

No, my heart was not strangely warmed by listening to an explication of the Book of Romans, but by witnessing four beautiful young men from detention mix and mingle with the people of Rainier Beach UMC at the first Clover Youth Mission Team meeting on the premises.

They ate food, they laughed, they drew pictures, they played games, and they chit-chatted.  And I skunked one of them in a rousing game of dots and lines. Overall, it was fabulous. And you know what? It was a glimpse of the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Nobody judged them. Everybody loved them. And in the building, Christian and Muslim ate side-by-side, East African and Euro-American and African-American and Fijiian all at the table together. Now that is the Kingdom of God.  All the children playing together with the values of listening and loving.

Yes.  My heart is strangely warmed.

A silly moment before the real picture.
So serious.


Celebrate! Gertrude Apel Pioneering Spirit Award!


I am very excited to let you know that the Church Council of Greater Seattle’s 2012 Gertrude Apel Pioneering Spirit Award winners are:

The Youth Chaplaincy Coalition, headed by Terri Stewart

The Coalition lives and breathes a truly ecumenical spirit in walking with young people in the Youth Detention Center and Echo Glen.  Involving ministers and lay people from diverse Christian backgrounds and various faith traditions, the ministry is being taken in new directions to support youth coming out of incarceration and to provide a base of pastoral care for young people in the community.

Sr. Julie Codd, CSJP

Sr. Julie was a catalyst in the evolution of the Chief Seattle Club and has maintained an active and vibrant ministry with Native American communities before, during and since her time as Director of the center.  Her urban ministry reflects the deep spirituality and cultural respect that has transformed lives and relationships in a city so hungry for authentic encounter.

In the spirit of the Rev. Gertrude Apel, both the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition and Sr. Julie Codd, CSJP, have the “talent for fostering cooperation and getting things done.”  The Church Council of Greater Seattle is proud to celebrate these witnesses to the Gospel of Christ who model faith-filled compassion and justice.

Please join in a simple, festive celebration for these Pioneers:

Sunday, November 18
3 p.m.
Seattle First Baptist Church
1111 Harvard Avenue
Seattle, WA

Thank you for sharing this invitation with your friends, communities and congregations.

I invite your RSVP to Ann Erickson at aerickson@thechurchcouncil.org.   For further information or questions, feel free to contact me at mramos@thechurchcouncil.org or 206.525.1213 x3911.

Blessings on your ministries and your commitment to creating a more just world.


Michael Ramos
Executive Director
Church Council of Greater Seattle