Justice for Troy Davis?

9/21/11, 8:59 p.m. He’s not dead yet.

There are thousands of people trying to save his life, this Black man in a Georgia penitentiary, who has already served more than 20 years in prison.  Troy Davis is a symbol of something much greater, a magnet for a deep rage, a deep and inchoate sorrow–the rage and despair of all those who rail against injustice.  He is neither the first, nor will he be the last to be snared in the U.S. “justice” system and ground to a pulp.

Clearly, his trial was a travesty of justice.  Whether or not he killed a man in 1989 (a white man who happened to be an off-duty cop), certainly he has served his time, and just from looking at him you can see that he would not be the same man who walked through those prison doors 20 years ago.

Isn’t the purpose of the criminal justice system rehabilitation?

Or is it revenge, the vengeful inflicting of an eye for an eye?

I would like to believe that if we go to the expense and trouble of housing, feeding and caring for a prisoner for 20 years, we’ve done it to accomplish more than simply warehousing him for his execution date.  What is the point of that?

As Bob Roberts showed so movingly in his memoir My Soul Said to Me, just about every convict has it in him (or her) to be rehabilitated.  All it takes is someone who is focused on seeing the good, rather than insisting on the irredeemable.

The Bard Prison Initiative, for example, is predicated on the assumption that every man behind bars is capable of learning, and will benefit from education.  So many of the young men and women behind bars never had the benefit of a decent education–which might have put them on quite a different path.

The Bard Prison Initiative, like Bob Roberts’ Project Return program for released ex-cons, demonstrates that justice does not have to wear an executioner’s hood.

Sure, those who do wrong should be punished.  But not forever.  Very few criminals deserve capital punishment–and sadly, those who most deserve it often manage to escape (for instance, the masterminds of genocide in places like Guatemala, Rwanda, Bosnia….).

What good does it do anyone to put Troy Davis, or many others like him, to death?  What good does it do to hold Leonard Peltier or Mumia Albu-Jamal in prison for decades?  Doesn’t the criminal justice system want to do good?

Doesn’t it?

Building resilience: the time to start is now

What we need to weather these tough times is resilience, and that seems to be a buzzword for this decade; many people I know are talking about strategies for building resilience these days–my friends Maria Sirois  and Amber Chand are both working on workshops to help people build resilience in troubled times.

Resilience is about taking what comes in life, good and bad, with equanimity.  Eckhart Tolle talks about this a lot–the importance of acceptance.  That is all very well for me to think about while sitting in a beautiful place on a beautiful sunny day with my family around me.  Much harder for someone in pain to be asked to simply accept what is.

Tolle and Buddhist teachers like Pema Chodron and so many others teach us that we need to practice acceptance in the good times, so that when hardship occurs, we’ll have the mental discipline and habit of being accepting–by which I think they mean not freaking out and panicking when things go wrong, focusing on the present moment through the breath, and finding the light that lives within us, no matter how dark our external circumstances may be.

When you think of someone like Nelson Mandela, who managed to survive almost three decades in prison with his spirit, courage, and wisdom intact, you have to realize that this is more than just spiritual mumbo-jumbo.  How else could he have made it through unless he was able to access some deep inner well of equanimity and peace, an inner resilience that helped him get through each day of those terrible times, and emerge not only mentally sound, but ready to lead his country sanely and sagely.

Few of us will face the challenges that people like Nelson Mandela, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, or Mumia Abu Jamal have faced.  But every life has its dark periods, and right now humanity seems to be entering collectively into times that will test each one of us, and all of us as a society.

We shouldn’t wait until things turn rough to start building our own inner reserves of resilience and strength, and to reach out to others who are doing the same.  The time to start is now.


%d bloggers like this: