There are no “monsters” behind bars | Notice

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By Theresa Canales

Imagine being constantly judged for something you didn’t do, a mistake, or maybe the worst thing you’ve ever done. At the root of our human existence are many needs, but I believe that one basic need is forgiveness. We all need forgiveness, and forgiving others can be an extremely liberating experience.

Our world is rife with so much prejudice and discrimination, but I wonder if we could solve these problems if we looked at it from a different perspective. How do you react when you read a story about crime or incarceration? Do you think everyone who goes to jail or jail must have done something wrong? How do you treat those you meet who have a criminal record?

Did you know that[i]:

There are many different monthly sightings throughout the year, but perhaps a lesser known one is Second Chance Month, which Prison Fellowship began in 2017. In recent years, several states, including New Jersey, as well as the White House have issued proclamations declaring April as Second Chance Month. The aim is to raise awareness of the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction and to open a second chance for people who have paid their debt to society to become citizen contributors.

The past year has been unprecedented in many ways due to the impact of COVID-19 on our country, including the country’s prisons. Much work has been done to mitigate the effects behind bars, including efforts to release detainees. In New Jersey, Bill S2519 was passed last fall and since then thousands of men and women nearing the end of prison terms have been released.

While this is a much-needed relief for those who remain incarcerated and the staff who work in penitentiaries, those who re-enter society have set foot in a “second prison”, which includes obstacles that waste human potential and increase freedom. recurrence, ultimately putting the public at risk. security. Unfortunately, many former incarcerates will continue to be tried and punished on the basis of their past. With over 1068 collateral consequences – or restrictions that limit access to education, employment, housing and more – exist only in New Jersey, considerable work needs to be done.

I believe:

  • People with a past can come out of their failure and become contributing members of their community.
  • No one should be defined solely by the criminal justice system.
  • In a justice which restores, recognizes and advances the dignity of human life.

I had the good fortune to meet and visit many people incarcerated before COVID-19 and the suspension of visits. The only thing I can tell people is that there are no “monsters” behind bars, only human beings. At the end of the day, we’re all in the same boat. A person with a criminal record is no less a person than a person without a criminal record. We all deserve human dignity and worth, redemption and a second chance.

Consider the impact you can have in someone’s life by giving them a second chance, whether you are an individual, an employer, a congregation or a community. Maybe it is a job, food, toiletries, shelter, your time, or your talent. Maybe it’s even more fulfilling. Consider the invaluable and richly rewarding impact of extending forgiveness.

Theresa Canales is a financial services professional, veteran and mother of two. She volunteers with Prison scholarship as an ambassador for justice and serves in the prison ministry at Calvary Chapel in Old Bridge.

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