Veterans Behind Bars

While a lot of people were busy packing down another round of Thanksgiving chow I was in prison.

This is not a post on religion, but it does mention that to set things up.

My sermon topic (I preach in prison), was (no surprise) on Thanksgiving. I remembered my brother’s invocation at lunch at Ma’s house. He gave thanks for the men and women of our military who cannot be home with their families for the holidays.

Speaking to 17 men yesterday evening, I recalled his words. I told the men we need to be thankful for the soldiers. It is because of them that we can come together in that prison for a church service. It is because of those soldiers that most of the men in that prison do not have to come to church services. Because of soldiers, we are free to worship or not as we choose.

So then I asked if there were any veterans in the congregation. Two hands went up.

I was not surprised. Immensely saddened, but not surprised.

Since beginning my prison work, almost always a veteran is in the crowd. Rather that wearing fatigues, BDUs or dress uniforms, these men wear white clothes with blue stripes and often black shoes.

I do not know and do not ask why these men are behind bars. I do not ask what they did to become a ward of the State of Georgia. I do not ask what drove them to commit whatever infraction led them to the penal system.

But I wonder.

It bothers me immensely that these men who could have died to preserve the things this country stands for are now held in contempt by this very same country.

I am not excusing what they did. I am saying the entire matter bothers me. I cannot find peace over this. I do not know what to do to provide a suitable resolution.

So, I continue to wonder and leave unasked questions.

One of these questions which I do not give voice to is – I do not ask why they sacrificed the freedoms they fought for.

Except that is not a completely fair statement. Certainly some veterans are in prison because of crimes of violence, theft or something that certainly should be illegal.

But what about those veterans arrested for crimes in which no one was harmed?

I remind you that it was not too long ago a person could be arrested for sitting in a certain place on a public bus.

Maybe these veterans continue to struggle for freedoms once they left the military service. Those freedoms they sought are restricted by present law. Perhaps they see those laws as unjust and in direct opposition to the very ideals they represented while in the military.

This nation has a long and storied history of people opposing what they see as unjust laws. This opposition has taken many, many forms over the years, including simple civil disobedience like refusing to comply with a law. Some of the people over the years who have resisted are hailed as heroes, others are vilified.

Perhaps their rebellion is a continuation of their service to this country.

You could say I am attributing far more weight to their thought and actions than the thoughts actions deserve. You may be correct.

But at the end of the day, there are veterans behind bars. This bothers me.

If it doesn’t bother you, then I have to ask, are you worthy of the sacrifices the men and women of our military have made, are making and will make?

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