Charles Colson came to mind a few days ago when five young members of a New York gang called Trinitarios were sentenced to virtual life in prison for the heartless, bloody slaughter of a defenseless teen on a Big Apple sidewalk.
As their punishment was being handed down they grinned at photographers, brazenly flashing gang signals as if the proceedings were only an inconvenience to them. Sorry? Sorry for what?
What was most chilling here was their indifference.
Stories like that always bring Colson to mind.
He’s remembered by most as the Special Counsel to President Nixon who spent seven months in jail for Watergate-related offenses, but during those seven months his life would dramatically change through a spiritual conversion.
Cynics may question that, but it does happen. It’s how Malcolm Little eventually became Malcolm X.
Colson, who died in 2012, subsequently became a leading authority on incarceration.
That day we met our luncheon conversation was dominated by a similarly barbaric murder that had occurred here.
“Years ago,” he noted, “whenever kids would come in off the streets I could talk with them about right and wrong, but these kids coming in now have no idea of what I’m talking about.
“Historically, the challenge was to protect kids from older cons. It was a common theme in the movies. But now that’s been reversed. Wardens tell me their biggest problem now is older inmates asking for protection from the younger ones because the kids coming in today are much more dangerous than the convicts already in prison.”
Colson’s answer was one America no longer wants to hear.
“There are two types of restraint on human behavior,” he said. “One is external; building prisons. But we can’t build them fast enough. We’re so overcrowded that we’re releasing inmates early to accommodate more dangerous ones.
“The other restraint is internal, which is the informing of conscience by the teaching of values. But this society says we can no longer do that, and so we continue missing the cause of crimes.
“Our moral breakdown has overwhelmed the capacity of our criminal justice system to respond and until we recognize that we will continue to have kids killing each other over leather jackets and Nike shoes.”
The law of the harvest assures us we will reap whatever we sow, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing now.
As the Pew Research Center reported last week there’s a big decline in America’s “religious landscape.”
Some will insist those dots do not connect.
But they seem clear as a bell at this address.
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