‘Remember Me’

In Luke 23:42, “the other criminal said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’”

The author of Hebrews says in chapter 13:3, “Remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Each of us is an offender in God’s eyes. That God extends his grace deep enough to embrace even the life-sentence-serving criminal should comfort and inspire all of us who follow him.

God’s call to his church to remember those who are incarcerated for their offences is a theme throughout the Bible (Gen. 39-40, Matt. 25 and Acts 16). It demonstrates the beauty of God’s heart and of the gospel that God extends a special care and remembrance for those whom this world has not only forgotten but has very deliberately (and often even with good reason) physically removed out of sight and out of mind.

For me, obedience to this call will involve cycling from Hamilton to Toronto on August 10. August 10 is recognized each year as Prisoners Justice Day (PJD) in Canada, a day of remembrance for those who have died unnatural deaths in jail. PJD is also marked annually with activism, often including fasting, for inmates to be treated as they ought – not necessarily any better but also not any worse than they ought.

So with a group of others, I will be cycling to Queen’s Park with a letter for Ontario’s Premier to raise awareness about bad laws that cause Ontario’s inmates to die unnecessarily and unjustly. To remember those in prison. And to seek justice by changing those bad laws.

Why activism?
The means of fighting injustice must fit the source of the injustice. When injustices oppress people in systems that are reinforced by government laws, like segregation in the U.S. or apartheid in South Africa, then God’s call to do justice is a call to fight unjust laws through activism.

Not all injustices stem from bad laws or from the action (or inaction) of governments. However, those who pay attention to the prisoners of Ontario quickly realize that they are victims of bad, unjust laws.

That’s why we’ll be asking for changes that, while maintaining an offender’s loss of freedom during incarceration, will prevent some cases in which offenders lose their housing as well.

Currently, 4,000 to 5,000 people in Ontario each year become homeless because of their incarceration (that’s a new homeless person every two hours!). Some men who have shared their stories with me were incarcerated on remand, only to later be found not guilty. In the meantime, they lost all their possessions along with their home when they were unable to pay rent during their months locked up.

One man I talked to told me that his wife and kids became homeless because Ontario’s disability support payment program assumes that when a person is housed in jail, their need for shelter is already looked after. In this man’s case, the housing allowance of his disability support payments was cut off during his incarceration. His wife could not afford to pay their rent on her own. The family ended up on the streets and this man had nowhere to go when he was released.

Those in Ontario can join the justice-seeking, criminal-remembering Church throughout history in seeking restoration, and by extension societal flourishing and community safety, by advocating with us.

Whether through Ride for Reform or otherwise, may we join God in remembering the prisoners in our communities.

An earlier version of this piece was originally published on Do Justice, the blog of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue and the Office of Social Justice.

Author

  • John lives in Hamilton with his wife Alyssa. He values prayer, justice, sports (like cycling, of course) and puns. Join or support at rideforreform.com. Follow updates at facebook.com/rideforreform

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