Malachi's Woes!

I write this lamenting over a friend of mine. We'll call him Malachi.  
I write this lamenting over the prejudices and inequality of the "war on drugs"
I write this lamenting over the cruel and racist policies of mass incarceration.  
I write this lamenting over those experiencing homelessness and their struggles to escape its vicious grip.  
I write this as another illustration of what I detailed in my recent post: It's Political: The Punishments Do Not Fit the Crimes!

Malachi was homeless, actively seeking an apartment. He's around 60 years old, has congestive heart failure and a few other ailments. I've known him for over 15 years now and most people view him as this happy gentle giant who is always friendly and kind.

Last week I got a call from someone I network with; he was looking for Malachi because his name had finally "come up" on the housing database which means he's eligible for subsidized housing, immediately. I was overjoyed for him. It was his time.

...or so I thought!

Malachi doesn't stay in our shelter, so I went out onto the streets (where he often is) to find him and deliver the good news. I ask around, he can't be found and someone lets me know that he could be locked up, again. So I do an internet search and quickly discover he's in Statesville Correctional Center. 

This is where I lament: Malachi sits in prison tonight, not because he did anything violent, but because he was charged with possessing an illegal substance. He's in prison because this elderly sick man got caught up in a "sting" and they profiled a whole bunch of poor and vulnerable people like Malachi as drug kingpins. Let me tell you, this homeless man is not a drug lord, he did not commit a heinous crime, he did not commit a new crime, he somehow violated his parole and that's why within a few days he went from the streets of Uptown, through Cook County Jail to Prison. 
I lament not only the fact that this man is now living behind bars, I lament over the fact that this will seriously jeopardize his possibility of housing. Even just being incarcerated for a brief stint puts everything at risk and often requires starting again. The effects of mass incarceration are traumatic and unforgiving. He will quite possibly return to Chicago, needing assistance because he'll be homeless again. Not only that, he'll be penniless and need help getting his disability check again. And on a personal level, after being separated from his young son he'll be looking to restore his relationship with him again. 

What Malachi has done may seem foolish and risky, but the reality is, he is suffering, not because he's committed a heinous crime, but because he's poor and black. This is my problem with the "war on drugs" and "mass incarceration", millions of people with money will party tonight and use copious amounts of illegal substances, but will never see the back of a cop car. Statistics reveal every race and socio-economic group sells and abuses drugs at similar rates, yet it is viewed as a health issue for the rich and white and a crime if you're poor and black. It's ignored in one section but hyper-focused on in another. It results in cuffs and cages for some, but treatment plans for others. 

Let's stop filling our prisons, but instead, view harmful addiction as a health issue for everybody! Let's practice harm reduction instead of criminalizing. Instead of judgment and retribution, let's practice compassion and forgiveness. Let's flip the script and follow the example of Jesus who blesses and gives hope and mercy to those who are poor, mourn and imprisoned. 

"Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!" 
Isaiah 30:18


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