Solitary confinement

The worldwide web does a great service; it informs us of the triumphs and tragedies of the day. But as we relish the accessibility of knowledge we are also aware that what we see is what others have chosen to make available to us. There is much else that lies hidden.

We hear of an earthquake in Nepal, the advance of IS in Iraq and corruption in FIFA. But we did not know, until a judge jolted us with the knowledge last week that an estimated 80,000 people are kept in solitary confinement – some of them for 40 years – in the United States.

The judge was in Louisiana and he ordered the immediate release of Albert Woodfox, who had been locked up for 23 hours a day for 40 years charged with a crime he denies he committed and two court cases failed to prove he had. What struck me was not so much the horrific details of such treatment of human beings as the fact that we would never have known about it if that judge had not said “enough is enough.”

And the people who held Woodfox in those conditions for so long don’t seem to have any idea of the cruelty and inhumanity of their actions. Thanks to the decision of one judge the world now knows and the pressure will mount for more just treatment of alleged and indeed convicted criminals.

Yet one continues to ask how is it possible that authorities in a country that has “inalienable rights” written into its constitution for more than 200 years can treat its citizens like that? Mixed with my anger I also find myself thinking of the judge and the courage he has shown in questioning the system. This is exciting and encouraging. Things can change. They can change in politics, in the Church and in society. In the Catholic Church one man, this time at the highest level, is “questioning the system.”

The changes this approach brings will last. Jesus had stories about such changes. He emphasised that they are gradual, like a farmer sowing grain which, “sprouts and grows; how, he does not know.” Or like a little tree which from the “smallest of all the seeds grows into the biggest shrub of all so that the birds of the air can shelter in hits shade.”

You won’t find this on the web. The web gives us facts. The Spirit gives substance to our dreams.

Post published in: Faith

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