A Case for the Fallen
A Case for the Fallen
Every society has its pariahs and outcasts—and they come from all walks of life. Be they members of “the one percent,” or the poor who are struggling to survive, people routinely fall away from the circle of acceptance and find themselves once or twice removed from respected society.
And it can happen fast—a health crisis, a lost job or profession, an encounter with the law, prison, bankruptcy, a financial or sex scandal. It happens. And when it does, it changes everything; perhaps that fine upstanding, educated, productive person you worked with or live next door to suddenly becomes viewed as unsalvageable damaged goods, with little or nothing to contribute to anyone ever again.
There is a case to be made for salvaging seemingly broken people. They can help to rebuild a broken system and a broken world.
Look at history.
Those who place value in the Scriptures and religious history will recall that God chose Jacob, with all his early character flaws, to lead Israel; that Jesus chose a band of socially marginal fishermen to spread the Gospel and build his Church, rescued people like Mary Magdalene from the authorities and invited himself to the home of the financially disreputable Zacchaeus to discuss restorative justice.
For those who prefer political analogy, Franklin Roosevelt was considered a spoiled, ambitious, self-indulgent aristocrat when he was stricken with polio and began to seek wellness by bathing in the springs of Georgia with the poor and disfigured. So compelling was his transformation that he dedicated the rest of his life to restoring a nation and its poor to economic wellness and mobilizing America to equip itself and its allies in the fight against tyranny and darkness in World War II.
And there are many other such stories, some not so heralded, like New York’s former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler, whose fall from brilliant jurist to federal inmate was heartbreaking to many. Today, Judge Wachtler is quietly teaching us again about justice and law and restoration, this time with a far more complete point of view. Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, having also served time in prison, has urged us to educate ourselves about the evils and waste that characterize our criminal justice and prison systems and has dedicated himself to the cause of criminal justice and penal reform.
Since the economic meltdown of 2008, hundreds of bankers and financiers have faced public wrath over certain of their financial practices that caused millions to lose their homes and destabilized home values and credit markets for years to come. Many such individuals and institutions have tried to make amends by paying fines. Others have been more proactive and have instituted new financial instruments called Social Justice Bonds to finance prisoner re-entry programs; they’ve also offered employment to people with criminal records.
Our communities have many such people and resources to call upon in the fight to improve the quality of justice and life in America. Convicted felons, misdemeanants, defrocked professionals, drug and alcohol abusers, people who have resorted to violence in the past and have since renounced it, and many others can have something very valuable to offer to fix our broken world. They can return to their families and communities as productive, loving, law-abiding citizens who can draw upon their own particular circumstances and adversity to make the world a better place.
And we might just be surprised to find out that when we give this a try, the benefits will be exponential. When we accept people back and recognize their worth, we drive them to want to be even better and do good things. Once we reinvest our trust in the fallen, we will find that in most cases they will work and strive mightily to retain it.
Back in the mid-nineties former U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli was driven from office over what, in retrospect, was a minor scandal involving his taking some expensive suits as gratuities from a foreign lobbyist. This young articulate, bright Harvard-educated public servant left the political scene with this question: “When did we become such an unforgiving people?” Torricelli, who as a result of the incident did not seek re-election, was not prosecuted for any crime.
The time has come for us to resume the story of human history and salvation by accepting back those among us who have for some reason fallen out of favor with society, and fallen from grace. The time has come for us to honor their value and welcome them to work with us.
By committing ourselves to help the formerly incarcerated find and maintain good, meaningful jobs, we create a society where it becomes “easier for people to be good.”
In the final analysis, isn’t this exactly what we should be doing?