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Prisoners are Not Animals

"We will not make our culture healthier or our children safer by treating the sexual assault of prisoners as normal, or funny, or just. And, more broadly, we can’t be satisfied granting human dignity to some people while casually dehumanizing others. Prisoners, even those who have done terrible things, are not “monsters” we can use (rhetorically or literally) like subhuman beasts. Wishing rape-as-punishment (even on rapists) is itself wicked and contributes to our broken prison system.

One of the women who testified at the sentencing hearing had a different message for Nassar, the man who abused her. She also spoke of the gravity of his crime and its consequences, but coupled that with a message of grace. Former gymnast Rachael Denhollander told Nassar, “I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me—though I extend that to you as well.” Her words are bracing, but she is offering Nassar a signpost toward salvation.

It’s easy and apparently popular to pretend imprisoned criminals are some separate class of being—animals or monsters, not people like us. But Christians do not have that luxury. Jesus could not be clearer about our duties to the imprisoned. In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31–46), he tells the righteous, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; [...] I was in prison and you visited me.” And to the unrighteous, he says, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, [...] in prison and you did not visit me.” For Catholics, these duties Christ tells us we owe “the least of these” are codified into the seven corporal works of mercy, including visiting the imprisoned. Those who would condemn their fellow man to a simulacrum of eternal separation from goodness should worry about facing the real thing themselves."

Prison Cell

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