By Rev. Jason Richard Curry, Ph.D., Columnist
When I first learned about the concept of restorative justice (e.g., restoring justice to those who have been stripped of it), I must admit the ministry to returning citizens (e.g., citizens who were released from incarceration and returning to society) was not appealing to me. I know many people who have spent periods of time in jail. Their actions often brought tremendous hardship upon their families, friends, and community. As a child, I was negatively impacted by their actions and it was difficult for me as an adult to invest time with them during and after their incarceration.
For those who may have read the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), I was the “angry son” in verse 28. However, when I realized that 1) there was a relationship between poverty and violence; 2) Jesus requires us to visit those in prison (Matthew 25:36); 3) the criminal justice system, according to Dr. Michele Alexander in The New Jim Crow, is biased against African-Americans; 4) U.S. citizens are being stripped of their Constitutional right to vote even after they have paid their debt to society; 5) some corporations make profits on the incarceration of others; 6) if it wasn’t for the grace of God, I would be in prison; 7) everyone, even those who are and have been incarcerated, is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27); and 8) we have a Christian responsibility to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31), I began to see the challenges facing return citizens a bit differently. Armed with a more comprehensive understanding of the problems faced by African-Americans returning to society, I began to try to do my part in helping them be successful after incarceration.
Jesus told his followers about the Parable of the Prodigal Son so they would know what God expects of them. When one son wasted his time and money engaging in “riotous” living (Luke 15:13), his father neither judged nor condemned him. Therefore, we should not judge or condemn those who’ve made mistakes in life. The father embraced his son with loving arms. We ought to embrace those who’ve make very serious mistakes with loving arms. Also, the father did not ostracize the son who expressed “righteous indignation.” We should thank God that we were not ostracized by God because of our judgmental attitudes.
Lastly, the father reminded the successful son that the three of them were family. We are indeed a human family, children of Almighty God.
Let us remember the insights given to us by Jesus through this parable as we seek to address the needs of those returning citizens who stand in need of restorative justice and Christian care.