It seems election season is so contentious this year that people forget prisoners don’t get to vote. The two issues that we are constantly bombarded with are the presidential race and the selection of the latest Supreme Court justice. But just because we do not get to participate in these events does not mean we are uninformed, nor does it mean we do not have a stake in these outcomes.
Last week I was attending a church service. The pastor has been a volunteer here for many years. So much so, in fact, that he is perhaps the only non employee they are currently allowing admittance. Overall, I’ve formed a favorable opinion of this man.
During the sermon, he told us how important this upcoming election is. He went on to describe how critical it is that someone who will appoint the right kind of judges (anti-abortion) is the winner. It didn’t take a huge amount of awareness to surmise he was advocating for the reelection of Trump.
Something about this did not set well with me. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. I could easily envision pastors across the country saying similar things to congregations of people who actually can and probably will cast a vote.
When I went to services this week, I had to ask. I had to know why many people who claim to be Christians would not only vote for, but even advocate on behalf of a man who could very well prove to be the Antichrist spoken of in biblical prophecy. It was an interesting conversation. The look on his face when I intimated that Trump might one day prove to be the Antichrist was priceless. But the answer to my question was far different than what I’d anticipated.
He began by assuring me that Trump is not the Antichrist. I conceded this point by indicating it was too soon to confirm that suspicion. He then went on to explain to me how horrible abortion is as a method of birth control. It was easy to agree with that sentiment as well. I was beginning to anticipate a real breakthrough where I might finally be brought to an understanding of why many people who claim to be Christians will seemingly vote for the devil himself if the guy assures them he is against abortion.
I was sadly disappointed as the conversation quickly devolved into his reciting the typical Fox news election talking points that can be viewed on that broadcast nearly any time of any day. Having read the Bible literally dozens of times (cover to cover), this was a big disappointment and perhaps somewhat disturbing as well. While the judges who conservatives typically appoint are basically required to oppose abortion, they often take many unchristian-like stands on other issues; as prisoners, we would be terribly uninformed if that didn’t scare us.
One thing conservative judges have often been known to do is validate convictions. This includes validating convictions of people sentenced to death, some of whom are later found to be innocent of the crime for which they were executed. Black men in prison in Texas and Alabama (and probably the other states of the former Confederacy as well) can tell you exactly what I’m talking about.
But on a less extreme level this same mindset often manifests itself. Almost 20 years ago there was a case called Blakely that speaks to this issue. As the war on crime ramped up, prosecutors continued to find ways to seek ever increasing sentences. The Blakely case ruled that they’d been going beyond the boundaries of the law.
So if the court decided that what had been taking place, for over a decade at that point, was unacceptable according to the law, the natural assumption would be that everyone who had been given an excessive sentence in this manner, would get some form of judicial relief from this ruling. People who made such assumptions had a lot to learn about the way conservative judges do business.
While the Blakely ruling helped curtail the use of these methods of seeking excessive sentences, it did nothing for those who had already suffered in this way. The only exception being those who were still under direct appeal for their convictions, a minuscule portion of those affected.
A Reagan appointee to the court, someone undoubtedly opposed to abortion, justified this outcome by suggesting that allowing this precedent to apply to everyone would be tantamount to ‘opening the floodgates’ because so many of these people had already served more than the appropriate amount of time for their convictions.
Many of these people eventually died in prison before completing their excessive sentence that the court had determined was inappropriate. Their families had to claim their remains and undoubtedly received a box filled with their loved one’s meager possessions. To a conservative judge, that is apparently an acceptable outcome.
Another thing the conservatives are counting on their appointees for is to help dismantle universal healthcare. Presumably the thought of higher taxes on the rich going to pay for the medical care of poor people is unacceptable. On one level, this makes sense, even to a stupid convict. Fewer poor people makes it easier to elect candidates who can be counted on to appoint this kind of judges. But where does the whole Christian dynamic fit into this narrative? Anyone who’s read the part of the Bible that deals with the teachings of Christ can tell you that it doesn’t.
Just like everyone else, prisoners are invested in the outcome at stake here. On the one hand we have reason to fear the guy who will likely appoint judges who can be counted on to keep us in cages, justified or not. On the other hand, we have the sponsor of several pieces of legislation that ushered in the era of mass incarceration. For us, this election was already lost the moment it was narrowed to these two choices.