I ran across this quote by St. Augustine this morning:
Further, all men are to be loved equally. But since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you.
Katie and I have recently been given the challenge of puting St. Augustine’s advice into practice. You see, a friend of ours is now serving the first of a seven-year sentence in federal prison. He is not a close friend: I would characterize him as having a close connection to us through an accident of time, place and circumstance.
Our friend’s story is messy and sad. He’s guilty of the crime for which he was convicted. But at the same time, he is also the victim of tough-on-crime mandatory sentencing laws that really don’t directly apply to the crime he committed: he’s serving a much longer sentence than his crime warrants–as even the sentencing judge himself acknowledged.
When our friend started serving his sentence, Katie and I decided that it was important for us to stand by him, which we’ve done in principle better than in practice. Our friend called us last week, and though he’s being very brave, it’s a tough situation. He’s in a minimum security prison, but the treatment he receives there in still pretty degrading. Plus, he said that of the thirty or so people who were communicating him after he went in, only about eight are still doing so. People move on with their lives, and it would be easy for us to do so, too.
After his call, I told Katie that supporting this friend should be our number one service commitment. And then I read St. Augustine’s quote above, which reinforced my feeling.
If there’s anything that will help this friend through this horrible experience, it’s knowing that people–especially people who aren’t ‘obligated’ to do so–are with him all the way. So, this week, we sent some money to his account, I ordered a magazine subscription for him, and we sent him some books and magazines. We also hope to visit him when we’re on vacation (he’s in a facility near El Paso, TX) next month. We will have to continue with these activities for the next six years.