FOUNTAIN OF LIFE HOSTS POWERFUL EVENT
Over 200 people turned out Nov. 18 to celebrate the founding of MOSES — Madison Organizing on Strength, Equality, and Solidarity — and to voice their support for its goal of halving Wisconsin’s prison population by the end of 2015. Wisconsin has over 22,000 people in its prison system; MOSES’ goal is half that — about 11,000 — by the end of 2015 (thus 11x15).
MOSES and its parent organization, WISDOM, propose reducing Wisconsin’s prison population through alternatives to incarceration. Researchers hired to study Wisconsin data and the Wisconsin experience with alternatives to incarceration have concluded that increasing the state’s commitment to Treatment Alternatives and Diversions (TAD) to $75 million/year would:
* REDUCE prison admissions by over 3,000/year
* REDUCE crime
* LEAD to improved mental health outcomes and recovery from addiction
* STRENGTHEN families
* SAVE the state more money than the cost of the program.
At the Nov. 18 celebration, gracefully emceed by Fawn Bilgere of Fountain of Life, speakers laid out issues Wisconsin communities face because of our incarceration policies. Rev. Tim Kehl, First Congregational United Church of Christ, offered some sobering statistics, labeling the U.S. “the incarceration nation”:
1 in 100 Americans is in prison.
The U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
1 in 28 kids has a parent in prison.
1 in 9 African American kids has a parent in prison.
MOSES co-chair Carol Rubin explained that MOSES is the most recently organized of 10 affiliates of WISDOM, a Wisconsin interfaith network that works for social justice on various public policy issues. Practically every Christian denomination, as well as Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims, are represented in WISDOM, as are individuals with no religious affiliation who are concerned about the issues being addressed. Right now, one of WISDOM’S issues is ending over-incarceration in Wisconsin. The ratio of people of color to whites in prison is one of the worst in the nation, Rubin said: We’re in the top three. And 51 percent of Wisconsin’s prisoners are African American, while African Americans are nowhere near 51 percent of Wisconsin’s population.
“Wisconsin is using prison to address public health issues,” Rubin declared. She advocated instead for a large increase in Treatment Alternatives and Diversions (TAD) programs, which she said have been proven highly effective as well as highly cost-effective.
The 11x15 Campaign kicked off in February, she said. “We’ve done over 100 power points across the state, collected thousands of signatures, and met with legislators … This is a bipartisan issue … We’re committed to making Wisconsin communities safer, healthier, and more just!”
MOSES co-chair Jerome Dillard said he knew the value of treatment alternatives, having been incarcerated himself due to an addiction. “Deep down I knew I was better than how I was living,” he said. He pointed out that we spend $1.3 billion every year on prisons; expanding TAD funding from $1 million to $70 million would be money well spent.
State Sen. Mark Miller said the over-incarceration of so many citizens is wasteful of both monetary and human resources. State Rep. Chris Taylor said we need a proactive vision for our state. Twelve representatives of faith communities and one individual then rose to declare their commitment to MOSES and to justice.
Rev. Tim Kehl, First Congregational UCC: “We must transform the edifice that is called our prison system.”
Karen Gustafson, First Unitarian Society: “We are committed to digging into those social issues that oppress all of us.”
Jerome Dillard, Fountain of Life: “Justice is related to restoration, not solely to retribution.”
Mary Collette, Madison Friends Society: “We are drawn to this work because of our history of looking for God in everyone.”
The James Reeb Unitarian Universalist representative explained that their founder, James Reeb, responded to a call to clergy from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to join him in Selma, Ala., in 1965. “We are proud [to join MOSES] as a small but fitting tribute to our founder,” she said.
Dave Haas, Snowflower Buddhist Sanga: “There are so many ways to turn away from suffering … We turn toward suffering with compassion. It’s all of our suffering … Participation in MOSES was almost a no-brainer [for us].”
Donna Hammer, Logos Deliverance Ministries: “The people I have are the ones that have been turned away from other congregations. The people we serve live this every day.” She, too, said that joining MOSES was a no-brainer.
Marshall Norman, Unity of Madison: “People in prison right now are whole and full of potential … mightily made!”
James Morgan, Voices Beyond Bars: “VBB is holistic in its support of people transitioning from prison to the community … VBB has been my foundation. Pastor Alex Gee [FOL] has been my foundation.” Morgan quoted Dr. King, saying: “’There comes a time when silence is betrayal,’” and added: “There has been silence on this issue for way too long.”
Munroe Whitlock, Genesis Social Services, Mt. Zion Baptist, “and myself”: “MOSES is a dedicated group of people taking on a monumental task.”
Pastor Flynn, St. Paul AME: “I’m supportive and am working on bringing my congregation along as well.”
Joan Duerst, Call to Action: “The emerging church is spirit-led and leaves no one behind … The poor and the incarcerated are among God’s chosen people.”
Nino Rodriguez, an individual member: “I … emphasize shared values: respect for the fundamental dignity of all human beings and … racial justice.”
State WISDOM coordinator David Liners said that “the main thing we’re about is relationships. We are working on issues of common concern, but it’s important to take time to really get to know each other so we can really support each other.”
Ana Garcia Ashley, the fiery executive director of Gamaliel*, encouraged donations: “We need to put our money where our values are,” she declared. “This is about … rekindling congregations so they can be a light in this community. We are rekindling our community!”
Rev. Alex Gee, pastor of Fountain of Life, gave the benediction: “I am excited about the work we have before us. I am excited to be with people who don’t just want a rhetorical faith, but a faith that’s alive … We don’t work out of pity. We believe we are all stronger and better because of those we have helped.”
A member of the FOL choir, which had already sung two songs, led the crowd in “This Little Light of Mine,” which emcee Fawn Bilgere pointed out was “a hymn of commitment” to the important tasks ahead.
What you can do:
1. Join MOSES. Meetings are the first Saturday of every month at the First Congregational UCC, corner of Breese Terrace and old University Avenue, 10 a.m.
2. Come to Room 417N, State Capitol, on Thursday, Nov. 29, 9:30-11 a.m., for the official release of the Treatment Instead of Prison Health Impact Assessment.
3. For more information, contact David Liners, WISDOM, 414-736-2099 or email@example.com.
*Gamaliel is a grassroots network of nonpartisan faith-based organizations in 17 U.S. states, South Africa, and the United Kingdom that organizes to empower ordinary people to effectively participate in the political, environmental, social, and economic decisions affecting their lives. Gamaliel is currently focusing on rekindling our congregations, our democracy, and our economy. Information at www.gamaliel.org.