Working with the poor, you learn things that do not get media attention. What are unintended (or intended) consequences of laws? What injustice goes unnoticed because we are unaware? These are some of the things I’ve learned about Chicago recently. I encourage you to do your own research and understand what is happening in a neighborhood near you:
1. In Chicago, you can be picked up for trespassing, including if you are 16 and in the neighborhood of your mother.
Brother Jim and I were talking with a group in the Cabrini Green row houses when police came to check identification. If our identification did not match the address where we were standing, we were questioned and asked to leave. A week later, one of our friends, the 16-year-old, was arrested for trespassing. He was in the neighborhood of his mother, but technically was on a lease on the south side. He has been banned from the area. This ban list, however, is randomly enforced, and the boy is back in the area without issue.
2. When in the county jail, before you have had a trial and are thus considered innocent, people cannot visit you unless they are on a visitors list.
Seeing as there is little communication to the outside world, the inmate has to give their best guess as to who can visit them. They need the full name and address of the person as listed on their state ID. Regular citizens cannot check to see if they are on the visiting list. Brother Jim and I can no longer drop in on guys at the request of their family. A very religious family who just had two sons arrested cannot bring a priest to visit them before their trial. The processing for visiting lists takes too long to coordinate. Why not call, you ask? In order to speak with an inmate, you need to accept a collect call to a land line. Low income families have neither the land line nor the money to pay for this. If you wanted to use a cell phone, you would need to set up an account with Consolidating Communications. It takes 30 days to get your number approved by the jail.
3. Cabrini Green Row Houses, and other vacant public housing lots held by CHA (Chicago Housing Authority), still receive funding from the government as if they were occupied.
Every single empty unit is paying the salaries of workers who are supposed to provide housing for the underserved. Meanwhile, low-income individuals have been pressured out of public housing and into section 8 homes, where, for the first time, they are responsible for heating and electric bills they cannot pay. Meanwhile, the homes that they needed to vacate with urgency remain rotting behind a tall metal fence.
4. Inmates are transferred from one penitentiary to another on the first of the month, so that both facilities receive full payment for having the inmate.
Friends of ours are delayed in being moved from one facility to another because they are being used for revenue by the institution of corrections. Therefore, the high costs of the prison system are bloated with double payments, turning a correctional facility into a manipulative profit-making scheme.
These are just a few of the facts that Brother Jim and I have stumbled upon in our work with the poor. It is our responsibility to be aware of our brothers and sisters and the plight against them. It is our duty to act for a just world, and not to turn a blind eye to injustice. How are you fighting for the Kingdom of God? Where can you use your voice to make sure others are protected? In an information age, it is up to all of us not to be complacent in fighting for justice for the marginalized.
–Megan Cottam, BSL
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