18 November 2013

Learning to think differently

"Lock them up and throw away the key." I've heard that line too often, and it has been an overused refrain in the American system of corrections. Two recent articles would have us think differently, but it means we have to look beyond our own borders (and think outside the box!) to gain some new perspective.

Take a look here for a look at what's happening in Europe.

And what happens if you have a jail with no one to put in it? Look what Sweden is doing here.

I find these somewhat ironic because the jail in my town--bright spanking new--but whole sections of it aren't used. They can't afford to staff it, and a number of officers have been laid off due to budget cuts. The city doesn't even house its own people in there. Instead, it contracts with smaller and cheaper jails in the neighboring cities.

And then there's the brand new jail built on the Native American reservation that looks nice on the outside, but they don't have the funds to run it. What are people thinking??

01 November 2013

The Saints Among Us

On the eighth floor of the jail Tuesday, I met with a man. His wife had died last Saturday. He needed to talk. He was feeling bad about being in jail and away from her. 

Early in October, Dave and Olga came from Nanaimo in Canada to Seattle, on their way to Fort Lauderdale in Florida, to take a cruise in the Caribbean. It was a last fling. Olga had ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was getting sicker. In fact, she had no control of her hands and arms. One last trip, they thought, then they’d face her final months together.

But in Seattle, Dave was arrested. Turned out there was a warrant for him out of Alabama, for breaking his probation almost thirty years ago. Dave went to jail. He was going to have to wait to see if Alabama wanted him.

Olga went to a local hospital. She wasn’t sick; she was managing the ALS, but without Dave, she didn’t have a caretaker and she did need care.

“All I know,” Dave said, “is that she got home. Someone escorted her to Victoria. Then she died at home with a friend with her.” He wanted to find out who had taken his wife to Canada. He knew it was someone from a local parish, but that was all.

I said I’d try to find out. With the name of the hospital, I started making calls. The chaplain didn’t answer, so I left a message.

A call to a woman who works in the diocesan Pastoral Care office pinned down the name of the parish close to the hospital. I called St. Francis of Assisi parish. I laughed when a long-time friend answered the phone. She works as the receptionist. I explained I was looking for someone from their parish who might have helped a woman get back to Canada.

She didn’t even let me finish my question.“That’s Frances!” Frances was over in the church with a funeral, but she’d call back.

When Frances called, she told me this:

At the hospital, a social worker spent two days on the phone, trying to figure out how to get Olga back home to Canada. Finally, Olga said, “I’m a Catholic. Maybe someone at a parish could help.” The social worker called the hospital chaplain. The hospital chaplain called the local parish, St. Francis of Assisi.

At the parish, Frances the Pastoral Care Minister answered the phone, and late on a Wednesday afternoon, arrangements were made. Frances met Olga at the hospital at 6am on Thursday and they boarded a cabulance with Olga’s luggage and wheelchair. To the waterfront and the Victoria Clipper they went. The cab driver helped haul the luggage to the ticket counter. The boat personnel said, “Don’t worry. Whatever you need, we’ll do it.” Frances and Olga got on the boat and went to Victoria. Along the way, Olga talked about the people in her life. “She was so upbeat about everything!” Frances said.

Once in Victoria, a friend met Olga at dockside, collected the luggage and the wheelchair and set off for Nanaimo. Before she said goodbye, Olga gave Frances one hundred dollars and insisted she have a good time in Victoria. Frances took a bus to see the Butchart Gardens and had tea at the Empress Hotel, something she had long wanted to do. She was back on the boat at 6pm and returned to Seattle. That was October 10th.

Frances had been wondering how Olga was, had told the story to a number of people. She’d explained that Olga couldn’t pick up a phone and call, and she certainly couldn’t write a letter. But Saturday, Frances thought she really should write Olga a letter.

She wanted to know, “How is Olga? Do you know?” 

“She died at home last Saturday,” I said.

“Well, I guess she got my letter then!”

Olga died at home two weeks after she’d returned from the interrupted trip. She never got her cruise, but she was with a friend and she died quickly. She and Dave had talked about the slow death that can be part of ALS.

That hundred dollars that Olga gave Frances? Frances brought it home. She knew a better place for the money. St. Francis of Assisi parish has a sister parish in El Salvador that is rebuilding its church. Nine thousand dollars is a lot of money in that country. Olga’s hundred dollars will go a long way and her name will be among those who helped in the effort.

Late in the afternoon, I talked with the hospital chaplain who told me about the efforts of the social worker at the hospital. "Can I tell them what happened with Olga? So often we don't know what happens to people when they leave our care, and everyone remembers her."

On Wednesday, I went to talk with Dave again, to tell him I’d found the woman who had helped his wife. He met me with a big smile. “Have you heard the news?” I hadn’t.

The Canadian consulate had been working on his case. He was being released in a few hours and headed back to Canada. He’ll have to come back for a hearing later in November, but he was heading home in time for Olga’s funeral.

I told him about Frances and the boat trip and the $100 and the parish in El Salvador.

Dave chuckled at the loops of connection: his Confirmation name is Francis. The woman who helped his wife was named Frances and worked at St. Francis of Assisi parish. Just how big a two by four does one need?

Dave and Frances will be in touch.

Olga’s name will be included among the names of the dead this weekend at the Seattle parish. 

Now you know the story. Isn’t it good to know there are saints among us?