3 Strikes, Substance Abuse, and Grace

July 13, 2017

In 1994 California, the state that I was born and raised in, passed the ill-conceived “3 strikes law.” At the time, it was billed as one of those wonderful “get tough on crime” bills. In the end, as with all things related to mass incarceration, all it did was lock up scores and scores of mentally ill, drug-addicted, mostly poor and or/minority “criminals” most of whom were not convicted of anything violent. The only glimmer of hope came in 2012 when voters passed Proposition 36 to shorten sentences of “lifers” who are not violent criminals.

The Return takes a good, hard look at the consequences of decades of stringent and oftentimes ridiculous sentencing of non-violent criminals and the repercussions of suddenly trying to re-sentence and subsequently release huge numbers of criminals who have been incarcerated for long periods of time. Watching the men who have been released and what I can only term as “post traumatic stress disorder” is stunning. I can’t imagine assuming for 10, 15, 20+ years that I will be incarcerated for the rest of my life and then overnight being able to fight for the right to leave prison and return to my family.

The most common thread I can see in all of them is a problem with substance abuse. If we would invest our dollars in rehabilitation programs instead of criminal “justice” I swear the world would be a better place. I will never understand why in the world we would lock someone up for stealing to supply a habit. It seems more cost-effective, not to mention more ethical and morally just, to treat the cause of the problem and not the resulting criminal activity.

It’s heartbreaking to watch these men (no women interviewed unfortunately which would have been equally interesting) try to reintegrate into society. It’s difficult to make amends with family members who have been without you for decades due to poor choices and a criminal “justice” system that is anything but just. It’s incredibly hard to find work with a criminal record, not to mention a huge hole in your resume and oftentimes a complete lack of marketable skills. And, it’s incredibly difficulty to avoid the PTSD from time in prison, and to avoid returning to the temptations of the street (namely drugs and alcohol use.)

You will not be disspointed in this film. It is heart-wrenching, but it is important. I think everyone member of Congress should watch it.

A big thank you needs to go to the men and their families who were interviewed and shadowed for this film. It can’t possibly be easy to lay your life out bare like that for the world to see. The director of this film did an absolutely fabulous job of piecing it all together. I was particularly moved by the lawyers who work tirelessly to obtain release for people who do not need to be in jail.

To read more about the work of this project, see here: https://www.thereturnproject.com/the-campaign/#about-the-return-project.

Psalm 69:33 (NRSV): For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.

Serve all with love.

Photo courtesy of: stocksnap.io

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