"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are." Jean-Jacques Rousseau – The Social contract
Despite having just under 5% of the world’s population (U.S. Census), its’ 2.24 million individuals in prison makes the United States home to nearly 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. With the highest incarceration rate of any country globally (World Prison Population List), 6.7 million in the United States are under some form adult correctional system supervision (Bureau of Justice Statistics). The “Land of the Free,” may just as easily become the “Home of the Bound.”
7-70 Re-Entry Services (7-70) was founded, to bring back that freedom: physically, mentally, and spiritually. Located in the heart of Chicagoland, home to the Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC) one of the largest single site county pre-detention facilities in the United States, there is no better place to start the task of restoring freedom to the land of the free. But freedom in a broken world does not just happen. Freedom requires 3 key virtues to thrive: “Justice, Forgiveness, and Restoration.”
Justice, a word thrown around so much these days that it leads one to wonder, do we even know what it means anymore. Regardless, the intrinsic human need for justice relentlessly cries out expressing its presence through protests, movements, and echoing voices across the globe. The definition can be found in the cries themselves. Why do we want justice? Because we want what is right. Why do we want what is right? Because “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (U.S. Declaration of Independence).”
Freedom is such an ingrained God-given desire, one may argue that all human history has been written around it. However, if freedom is to exist, we as individuals must have the free-will to choose: to choose to do right or to do evil. Too often, evil is chosen. Enter justice. When one person choses to infringe on the God-given freedom of another, we understand this to be as wrong as we understand freedom to be right. Lady Justice must reach in and reset the “balances” seeking to put down the evil that, through her “correction,” all people might be free.
Nevertheless, injustice permeates our world like flies to fresh dung. A quick study of the atrocities of humans against one another, makes the biblical phrase, “All have fallen short” (Romans 1:13) seem like an understatement. All the disease, sickness and natural disasters worldwide cannot contend to what humankind has done to itself. Thus, often what is touted “justice”, is no more than masqueraded revenge. However, the two could not be further apart. Justice seeks to correct and purify, revenge seeks to replicate the same evil that justice works to stop. An eye for an eye makes both blind. Justice demands an acknowledgement and a turning away from evil, that without, freedom could not exist. However, freedom requires more than justice alone: enter forgiveness.
Forgiveness releases the past so that the future can be. There is some damage that cannot be reversed; there are some debts that can never be repaid, and lost time can never be replaced. So, two options remain, a self-destructing bitterness bent on revenge or forgiveness. Forgiveness is not fair. However, the prison guard is sentenced to the prison as much as the prisoner. For example, U.S. penitentiaries cost tax payers over $80 billion dollars in 2013 (CBS News: The High Price of Incarceration). Forgiveness releases the prison guards from a life spent “in front” of bars. It frees the victims enslaved by evil by giving new life to what would otherwise be destroyed while at the same time loosing them of the burden of ongoing pursuit of fruitless revenge. Another way to say it is, I can think of many better ways to spend $80 billion dollars.
However, it is important to note forgiveness is not and cannot be separated from justice; in that, a failure to pursue justice does not free us from evil, it enables it. Justice demands that evil be destroyed. Sometimes this may mean physically through manmade judicial systems, but more preferably it is through the very acknowledgement and the free-will turning away of one’s heart, i.e. repentance. It is also important to note, that true repentance brings about reconciliation where it can be made; seeking undo the consequences of evil as much as possible. Justice must pursue the punishment of evil until that evil no longer threatens freedom. But justice can only reset the balances, it can punish but it cannot save. That is where forgiveness is imperative; however, to pursue forgiveness without first pursuing justice is not forgiveness at all. It is simply exploitation of the weak and a gross perversion of the word.
So is that the end of the story? We have freedom, through our free will, to choose. People chose evil and freedom is stolen. Justice corrects the evil, forgiveness saves us from becoming the evil, and the world continues to go around in a vicious circle? Yes, and no. It is the end of that evil’s story, but it is not the end of freedom’s. Enter restoration.
Restoration rewrites the story and adds chapters that could have never before existed. If justice corrects and forgiveness saves, then restoration resurrects. Restoration pays tribute to the justice and forgiveness that paved its way and takes what was meant for destruction and gives it new life. It takes the decomposing pile of dung the flies permeated, turns it into fertilizer, and grows a garden on top of it that feeds the world. But more importantly, restoration breathes life back into freedom, because restoration reminds us that to do evil, to be forever a victim of that evil and a past we cannot change, is not a forced destiny. We also have the power to choose: to do good, to choose to be a victor and to be the author of a future that evil has no power over. That, my friends, is true freedom.
Nevertheless, as stated earlier, freedom does not just happen. Justice, forgiveness, and restoration do not just happen. 7-70 is a team of professionals rewriting freedom’s story through justice, forgiveness, and restoration. Will you join us? The choice is yours.
Let Freedom Ring,
President, 7-70 Re-entry Services, Inc. NFP