Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On forgiveness

It's been awhile since I've written and I'm sorry about that. I've also been crap about reaching out to everyone and properly checking in. It's been a wild ride, these past five months, and I'm still getting my head around all the changes and trying to find a more natural rhythm to the day. 

I've done my best to give what is needed to work and family. It's not until that quieter, later part of the day when I wish we could have a cold beer together and laugh about the whirlwind that is our lives. 

The topic of this week's post is on forgiveness. I wanted to share with you excerpts from a speech that my father recently delivered. But before I do that, I think it's important to add a little background. My dad reached out to me just before President's weekend to see if I could help him get his speech down in size. 

Last week, in the midst of juggling a growing-very-fast set of projects, I attended a full week of engineering training. Any opportunity I could take with half a brain left, I worked on revising my dad's speech. 

About the middle of the week, I had this strange realization. I'm trying to get my head around a new role that isn't exactly full of women. And though I am in engineering, I'm a communicator rather than a creationist. At the same time, I am rewriting a speech that is going to be given to a group of fathers and sons at an all boy's prep school that all the men in my family on all sides have attended for at least two generations.

I love this speech on forgiveness with all my heart. And I love my dad for dedicating his life to something so undervalued and so needed. But I can't help that little feeling of wiggle inside of me. Amelia will never get to go to the Prep, she won't be part of that long standing family tradition. And strangely enough, this doesn't worry me; I see her and know she is the future of innovation.

Women are and will continue to be for some time in the future the true pioneers of thinking differently, of breaking new ground, of having to do amazing things from the position of slightly on the outside but with still enough tools and resources to get us interested and invested.

Just so you know, I am planning on thinking a lot more deeply about these wiggly feelings. I've got a plan  too and a new blog that feeds into that plan, but I don't want to promote it just yet, as it is too early days (though if you tried a little, you might just find a first blog post online).

Here's excerpts from the speech that I helped edit that my dad gave to the fathers and sons of St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia, PA):

February 26, 2012

Friends, Preppers, Americans.

Good morning to all and especially to my Prep generation, Popeye's is in the house!
I am truly honored to talk with you today at this, the finest high school in America.
I am truly honored to talk with you today at this, its annual celebration of our faith and of the sanctity of father and son.

I am particularly privileged to talk with you about forgiveness and our country's defining issue: when will America walk its talk of equality?
I would like to dedicate this talk to the Prep students who lost their fathers as I did before the approach of their first Prep father-son communion breakfast, their courageous mothers, and to my courageous Irish mother, Eleanor.

In 1966, I arrived at the Prep as a crooked faced first generation only child of an Irish taproom owner who died before my 7th grade. During my time at the Prep, the approach of this annual Father-Son Communion Breakfast brought sadness and resentment.
First, let me say to those fatherless Preppers to whom I dedicate this talk:

Your sadness will one day give birth to joy when you attend this celebration with your sons as I have with my 4 sons, and as I do today, as well as with my grandson Dillon.

It is fitting that I dedicate this talk on forgiveness to you.

We faced at a very young age the difficult challenge of forgiving God and ourselves.

I had trouble forgiving God for the loss of my father. I was angry and vowed self-reliance in the absence of a father.

As hard as I tried, I could not adequately replace my father, humanly or economically.
Despite my best efforts and accomplishments, I could not ease the burden of sadness that my mother bore.
The difficulty I experienced in forgiving myself and my God bred an illness in me of body and spirit which took me a long time to overcome. My resentment set into motion a cycle of injury which prompted my need to seek forgiveness from others. 

This was my early introduction to the idea of forgiveness, an introduction that led to a later vocational commitment to forgive and to work on behalf of those in need of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is surrendering resentment or anger for a perceived offense and no longer demanding punishment. Forgiveness heals, spiritually and physically. The idea of forgiveness may seem abstract and religious in an other-worldly kind of way, but, in fact, forgiveness is very practical and necessary for human life on the planet to survive.

According to clinical experience, forgiveness is an effective medical tool able to reduce illness, and necessary for physical, mental and emotional health.

Dr. George Valliant, the Harvard physician and preeminent healer of the aged and the director of the longest and most respected study of aging, found in his scientific studies that other than the use of alcohol and tobacco, the most significant variable in those that age well, are those that demonstrate the human capacity to forgive.
All faiths advocate forgiveness. Our faith's sacrament of reconciliation makes forgiveness there for the asking, requiring only confession, remorse, penance, and a commitment not to sin again.

Christ advocates forgiveness - the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Sermon on the Mount, the story of the woman sinner who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.
Christ spoke of forgiveness when teaching us to pray “....and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us...".  
We were to request forgiveness only to the extent that we forgive others.

When we refuse to forgive, the cycle of vengeance, retaliation and violence just escalates, inside of us and outside of us. It is only genuine forgiveness that breaks the cycle of destruction and opens up new possibilities for health. 
Forgiveness is both other worldly and worldly, moral and practical, coincident with both conscience and science.
The healing power of forgiveness cannot be overemphasized whether given or received and regardless of whether it comes from God, ourselves, another human being, or a nation.

As a lawyer, I find myself always asking: Should not forgiveness be a component of all justice? I think it should. What is true for the health of a person must be true for the health of a nation.

My remarks must be considered knowing that I am an American criminal defense lawyer and standing beside me today and everyday is a person - my client.  A black activist, a blue collar skinhead, a young black man, a young hispanic man, an Asian, your brother, your sister, your son, your daughter, you.  

Every Monday morning I remind myself of the words of the great American Eugene Debs…”as long as there is a lower class, I will be in it; as long as there is a criminal element, I will be of it; and as long as there is a poor soul in jail, I will not be free.”  

I represent person, not ideas. Certainly not corporations. America recognized corporations as persons almost a century before real people of color. I will believe that a corporation is a person when the state of Texas executes one.

In 1970, I went to West Point to defend my country.  I still defend my country, but now one person at a time.

And now I’m going to ask a sensitive question. Does America forgive?

2 1/3 centuries ago, the American experiment declared its moral purpose to the world that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." Government for the first time in history was created by the people for the people.
But the credibility of this declaration was betrayed by the diseased hypocrisy of slavery.  From its birth, America’s walk did not match America’s talk.

4 score and 5 years later, the American experiment suffered a great civil war to lance this cancer of slavery, and to reaffirm its promise that Government of, by, and for all the people shall not perish from this earth.

Tragically, the exploitation of slavery, for which thousands of white American lives were sacrificed, was quickly replaced by the domination of Jim Crow segregation, and the facade of separate but equal not only in the south, but in the north as well.

Jim crow barred black participation in America's political, economic and social life for almost a century until the crucible of the civil rights movement again tried to rescue the American experiment from the conflict between its talk and its walk - between equality for all and white supremacy.  

The cycle continued, and in 1971,  responding to the apparent triumphs of the civil rights movement of the 60s, President Nixon using the masked racist rhetoric of law and order launched the war on drugs which began the construction of a system of mass imprisonment which has been nothing more than a new Jim Crow.

Since the launch of the war on drugs, America's imprisonment rate, the highest in the world has multiplied more than 5 times.
America has only 5% of the world’s population but 25% of its prisoners, almost 3 million, most of color.

Blacks are now caged as a result of the war on drugs seven times as often as whites.  

Even though whites sell and use drugs at a much higher rate than blacks.

1 out of 4 young black men are in jail or prison.

Mass imprisonment on a scale unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country  today – as fundamental a fact as slavery was in 1850.

In truth, more African-American men are under correctional control today – in prison, jail, probation or parole – then were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

Actual caging, visible imprisonment, is only part of the new Jim Crow. The sentence for any criminal conviction in America is life because an invisible web of legal discrimination follows criminal conviction to the grave.

More black men cannot vote today than in 1870 when the 15th Amendment was passed barring laws that denied the vote on the basis of race - not because of poll taxes and the literacy tests of Jim Crow, but because of drug related criminal convictions.  

Once someone has been labeled a criminal, it is almost impossible to get rid of the stigma and public discoverable, especially after 9/11, criminal record attached to that status. This phenomenon is hardly new, but what is new is the scale of the problem and the color of those internally exiled. This problem has reached crisis dimensions.

For example, in Pennsylvania, in order for an individual with a misdemeanor conviction as insignificant as simple drug possession to obtain statutory forgiveness or expungement of that record, he must show that he has been dead for three years, or that he is age 70 and has not been in trouble for 10 years.   

Mass black, visible and invisible, imprisonment and the vacuum of meaningful forgiveness, just like slavery and Jim Crow before it, challenges the authenticity of America's moral legacy of equality for the world.

America's Criminal Justice System today is rightly called criminal, but anything but justice.

In a crisis, John F. Kennedy said, “Be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity."

The Prep with its unique gift, gave us the tools to be aware of danger, to recognize, opportunity, and to seize it!

A vital institution here at the Prep is Kairos. Kairos is the ancient Greek word for the opportune moment. According to Greek myth, Kairos was a young and beautiful god, and the personification of opportunity.  He was depicted with only one lock of hair.  He stood on tiptoes, had wings on his feet flying with the wind, and held a razor balanced on a sharp edge, attributes illustrating the fleeting instant in which opportunities appear and disappear.  He can easily be seized by the hair hanging over his face when he is arriving.  But once he has passed,  no one can grasp him since the back of his head is bald.

The Prep sent all of us out into the world to confront its crises with deeds that are both moral and practical, coincident with faith and science.

Coincidence is an event notable for its occurrence in conjunction with other events.  Einstein told us that coincidence is the way God remains anonymous.

The  coincidence of the faith and the science of the healing power of forgiveness dictates the next right action in bringing America's walk in step with its talk.

Faith directs that forgiveness be a component of justice.
Science directs that forgiveness be a component of justice.

As we know, one of the most important goals of Jesuit education is to be committed to justice. That commitment must embrace forgiveness.

“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but don’t forget.”

America cannot afford to be stupid or naive, and must choose to be wise.

Therefore, faith, science and our moral purpose in the world compel that we must, at a minimum, revolutionize and expand the criminal justice system’s instrument of forgiveness which we call expungement for all drug related crimes.

The federal government should take the lead, with a model expungement statute and also tie Federal block grants to model state expungement legislation, such as was done to lower the DUI intoxication level or the speed limit.

This model legislation would permit anyone convicted of a drug crime within a reasonable period of time after paying their debt to society to petition and obtain erasing of their criminal record upon a showing of:

  1. remorse - showing that they have remained crime free, and
  2. penance - showing rehabilitation, community service, employment, education or training
enabling them to a second chance and the full return of their civil rights and access to the political process, the labor market, student loans, and basic social welfare.  

A secure register could be maintained so offenses are not forgotten in the event of re-offending.  

This is not the time to discuss abolishing the death penalty, the ultimate rejection of the sacred idea that no man is beyond forgiveness, or ending the war on drugs, itself, which is destroying young black men and the black community. Those conversations are left for another day.

Before closing, I want to thank my wife Sharon, and my 7 children and 3 grandchildren.  All that know me intimately know that, but for Sharon and my children, I would be in jail rather than serving clients in jail.  

Philly sound's Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes spoke to us when they sang,  "Wake up everybody! Wake up everybody!...The world will get no better if you just let it be.  Change it now! Change it now! You and me."

America and each of us must break out of the colorblindness of denial, and respond as Preppers, and as Americans to conscience, to science, and to our moral purpose in the world and choose forgiveness.
Forgiveness is both the moral and the practical and is authentically American.


Let us this day pledge to seize Kairos' forelock and to consecrate anew ourselves and our country in the healing waters of forgiveness.

Forgive as persons!
Forgive as families!
Forgive as cities!
Forgive as a nation by revolutionizing the opportunity for drug crime convicted Americans to obtain statutory forgiveness!

The moral purpose of the American experiment yearns for it.

And if we do...
Our cities will be healthier, wiser, and stronger.
America will be healthier, wiser, and stronger.
We will all be healthier, wiser, and stronger.



No comments:

Post a Comment