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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Empathy & Compassion on the SAC Settlement Trail, By Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div

Progressive Prison Project
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Greenwich, Connecticut

Empathy & Compassion 
on the SAC Settlement Trail

By Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div

Weds., Nov. 6, 2013

Yesterday was the first day after the news broke about the SAC Capital settlement and guilty plea - and the whopping $1.8 billion or so penalty to be paid to keep its owner out of prison.  

At my most optimistic, I wish and hope that my faith colleagues will take this singular moment in history as an opportunity to comment upon issues of privilege and poverty, and how with deep, radical compassion and empathy we can use this moment to expose truth to power, and move oppressed communities closer together.  

It's the kind of moment that Che Guevara used in his fight for justice, and Gustavo Gutierrez wrote about in inventing Liberation Theology.   

So, I sent an email to over one hundred of my colleagues and friends to see if they would "dip their feet" into the treacherous waters of the White Collar Jordan, get off the fence, take a stand.  As I said, I am an optimist and I have already started to receive a few responses. I realize that most of them are busy doing other important things. We'll see how it goes... 

But as I think about it, who in the world would choose career suicide by showing compassion and empathy towards the families of persons accused or convicted of white collar crimes - on the very day that Steve Cohen paid $1.8 billion to stay out of prison? 

Answer: people who are in prison, on their way to prison, and/or have been to prison...and their spouses, children, families and closest of friends.  That adds up to forty million of us in this country. 

In this country, we show compassion & empathy to rehabilitated murderers and give them a second chance.  We should.  But we've bought into some fantastical narrative about financial crimes, criminals and their families that they are not worthy of our compassion and empathy - and we've never even thought about it.  We don't even know why?  We just got fed this story and we never even questioned it. 

This kind of thing has been going on historically for centuries in order to isolate, marginalize and eradicate oppressed classes of people the powerful want to convince us are "scary," or "two big for their britches," or "uppity," or "pushy" - like Jews or Black Males.  I'm a Jew (born & raised, since baptized) and I spend much of my time doing prison ministry amongst Black Males in Bridgeport, CT - in my experience, Jews and Black Males are among the most compassionate and empathetic people I've ever encountered. 

In our society we don't permit this type of oppression any more - or at least we say we don't.  Instead, we say that we are about fairness, forgiveness and redemption.  This is America, we say - the land of the free.  Where everyone has a chance - and a second chance...unless, of course, you are accused or convicted of a white collar crime.  Then, for some unknown and unspecific reason, we deem them a different animal - a worser animal.  

The crazy thing is that before their fall, we are completely fascinated by the so-called "privileged" - with television series, websites, blogs and paparazzi dedicated to their every move.  Didn't we fail to see them as real people in the first place - finding false comfort in their successes, and now Schadenfreude in their failings? 

The overwhelming majority of these white collar family members did absolutely nothing wrong - nothing. Yet we shame them, shun them and riducule them.  They are left homeless and penniless. Wives and children are separated from their husbands and fathers, left to fend for themselves in shark infested waters without access to services.  They fall into pits of hopelessness and dispair.  Nobody has ever counseled the spouses that they could have and should have sought independent counsel before it was too late.  They were never reassured that they were worthy.  They have never been counseled since that they are worthy.  How Christian, Jewish, or Muslim does that sound?

How human does that sound?
I remain optimistic.  

Thanks to LS & LC for the big assist on this blog post. 

Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div
Director, Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
Greenwich, Connecticut, USA

Assoc. Minister/
Director of Prison Ministries
First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
126 Washington Avenue, 1st Fl.
Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA  06604
(0) +1203.769.1096
(m) +1203.339.5887

1 comment:

  1. I want to take this time to respond to the "not-so surprising responses" to the article that Rev. Grant wrote about. In my heart, I am going to believe that people are good and that there are those that will be compassionate about the article. I have to wonder how we justify sin in our minds by reading the responses. First you know nothing about the entire situations that surround these families and what happened other than what you read in the news. However for some, they feel empowered to justify what sin is in their minds. Sin is sin. People seem to believe that if their sins are small and some one else's are bigger, the bigger sin is not worthy of forgiveness. God forgives all sin. We all are worthy of His mercy and grace and no one is without sin on this earth. To say that anyone who has committed a white collar crime because they had fallen and are broken and the person who committed the act or their families are not worthy of compassion is completely irresponsible. I was sent a quote the other day that "God grades on the Cross and not the curve." I would ask that you look deep within your own heart and ask do you really believe that a person who has not committed a crime more worthy of God's grace? We all fall short of his grace every day. I don't consider myself a victim. I consider myself in an unfortunate circumstance. Maybe the Lord put me in this circumstance for a reason that I cannot explain right now. I am a mother with a young child of a spouse who has been convicted of a white collar crime. It has been a tremendously painful experience. I have not lived a privileged life and I have always taught my child to be humble. It is easy to judge someone else's sin that is made public when sins of the writers who are negative and uncompassionate remain unknown. May God's grace and mercy bless all of us.