By Rev. Scott Taylor
“I can’t wait to go back to jail.” Yes, that usually gets a laugh from people, even those that know I am a jail chaplain. But Covid-19 has changed everything, and the Monterey County Jail and California prisons have suspended visits. This means that I’ve postponed my plans to create a monthly Sunday worship service in the jail, teach classes, and visit people.
But that doesn’t mean the work has stopped. I keep in touch with men in prison, both through letters and phone calls. I also provide a quarterly package for some of them, as prison does not provide the things a person needs to function. Most shipments include soap, shampoo, toothpaste, coffee, candy, and various food items. The prison allows only four packages each year, and limits the size of the package.
If you would like to correspond with someone in prison, contribute to a quarterly package, or share your thoughts about these issues, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I also keep in touch with men that have been released from prison. The first month is the hardest month, as there is an intense adjustment period. I work with a few “lifers,” men that were sentenced to a fixed number of years to life, but had to pass the parole board to be released. In July Steve Castillo was on Zoom with our St. Mary’s Youth group to share his story about how he left prison after serving 30 years, including more than 10 years in solitary confinement.
As important as it is to visit people in prison, following the words of Jesus (Matthew 25:36), it’s equally important to work on ending mass incarceration. The United States has about 25% of the world’s prisoners yet only 4% of the world’s population. Two important propositions are on the ballot in California this November. Proposition 20 would reverse some of the reforms of Propositions 47 and 57, passed in 2014 and 2016, which reduced punishment for some nonviolent crimes. Proposition 25 would end cash bail, which penalizes poor people. If they cannot pay, they must stay in jail, even if they are not guilty. Ending cash bail does not mean that dangerous people will be free; if someone is a flight risk or a danger to society, they are held without bail. If you would like to learn more about these two propositions, or are interested in conversation about this issue, please contact me.
Please join me in prayer for all people in jail and prison, and everyone working in the criminal justice system. Pray for mercy. Pray for healing. Almost 10,000 people in California state prisons have been infected with COVID-19, and 55 people have died. Pray for God’s love to make a difference.