Monday, October 5, 2009

Earth's Unforgiving

"The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed. It blesses him that gives and him that takes. 'Tis mightiest in the mighty..."
- Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Adel Basset al-Megrahi, convicted bomber of Pan Am Flight 103—the one that killed 270 people over Lockerbie, Scotland—is free. The Scottish government, which prosecuted and imprisoned him, released him on humanitarian grounds. The man is dying of prostate cancer. Scotland sent him home to his 95-year-old mother to spend his final days. In summing up his decision to release Megrahi, Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, said, “…that justice be served, but mercy be shown.”

BBC News reports that British relatives of the Lockerbie victims are pleased with Scotland’s decision. “Americans,” on the other hand “are appalled.” President Obama, echoing the sentiments of his fellow Americans, called for further confinement for Megrahi, labeling his release “an outrage.”

Americans and their president are true to form. No other nation on Earth locks up more of its citizens than does the “Land of the Free.” America will deny its own children a good education for the chance to keep a man locked up. It will deprive its elderly of basic services to squeeze the last the last little bit of life out of its prisoners.

Hatred? That is part of it. It is money, too; and it is jobs. Corrections workers are fast replacing the auto worker (with his big salary and comparable lifestyle,) as the new “upscale” working class. The difference: America’s auto worker gave the world a great product. America’s corrections workers give the world nothing. ( A disturbing snapshot of what America’s economy has become.)

Today, a situation in Standish, Michigan, offers a glimpse of what is happening across America. As part of a cost-cutting move, the maximum security prison there is scheduled to close…but not so fast. To the locals of Standish, the thought of their precious prison closing is hateful, and they are determined to do something about it. Besides holding a prayer vigil, they—along with the Granholm administration—have gone so far as to lobby California for some of its prisoners to stock their facility for a $60 million fee.

Commenting on this desperate move, Russ Marlan, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections said in the August 18 (2009) edition of USA Today: “We can’t incarcerate people to create jobs; that’s not what prisons are for. But that is what it has become.”

It is a shocking admission by a top government official—one the entire world heard at once. Yet, America continues to commit this blatant crime against its own citizens; a crime we would decry as a “human rights abuse” if some other nation was doing it. But because it is done in America, we look the other way.

This is what America’s prisoners and their families are up against—not just an official here and a group there, but legions of Americans—coast to coast—engaging in the interstate trade of human beings, quashing freedom for profit,, choosing vengeance over mercy as a prerogative of power.

Mercy. Kenny MacAskill’s words were a singular shot across America’s bow, reminding us that mercy offers hope for us all; for we are all sinners and in need of it.

Obama’s words, on the other hand, rang hollow. They only appeased a nation consumed with endless retribution.