I’ve been reading a history of the Supreme Court and this quote I came across has really stuck with me.
Life is action and passion. I think it is required of a man that he should share the action and passion of his time, at peril of being judged not to have lived.
– Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932)
There are many ways to interpret most quotes and I think it’s not damaging to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. for me to state that the way I read these words is less about getting the most out of life, and more about including your voice- your actions- in the controversies and debates of the day. To put it another way, and perhaps more to my point, we all have an obligation to share in the action and share in the passion of our time. We cannot simply sit on the sidelines and let others handle the problems for us. We cannot leave the work to “the professionals” – we have to include ourselves, even insert ourselves into these conversations so that we might affect change.
I’m reminded of another favorite quote of mine that sends a similar message I believe.
“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said it like this: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
There are so many issues, controversies, causes, and convictions currently at the forefront of our societal, national and even international consciousness that it’s almost hard to know where to start. I know I cannot have an informed perspective on each and every one of them, yet there are some that- being dear to my heart- I feel drawn to answer the imperative presented in Holmes’ inspiring words. These issues bring out the activist in me! 🙂
For me, one such issue is that of criminal justice reform. Our justice system quite simply has grown into an unwieldy leviathan fraught with errors, oversights, and even some corruptions. The criminal justice system has bloated itself with decades of pro-prosecution, “tough on crime” legislation and societal mandate that has done great damage to those most vulnerable in our society: the poor and minorities.
We need a substantive criminal justice reform platform that brings back many of the core principles upon which our justice system was founded, principles that have been ever-so-surely, yet slowly, eroded away in the name of “safety” and the “war on drugs,” among other avenues that provide the State with more power, and defendants ever less.
Most state prison agencies include some nod to what is supposed to be an important element of their work: “corrections” and/or “rehabilitation.” We need a system that imbues these terms with substance, instead of being hollow words approaching sardonic comedy.
Worse still, there have been now hundreds and hundreds of exonerations- people who have been falsely accused, wrongfully convicted, and erroneously incarcerated for years, even decades. We’ve seen with the aid of DNA evidence that our system is all too imperfect, like the human agents that comprise it. Our criminal justice system has sent to prison as “monsters” nearly 2,000 people in this country alone who have been since cleared of their charges, usually after having their lives destroyed by an unfeeling State that in all but the most rare cases does not even offer an apology, let alone any monetary compensation. This must be addressed.
Who is more vulnerable than one kept in a cage, locked behind bars, held against his or her will at pain of death?
There’s a reason scripture implores us to remember those suffering in prison (Hebrews 13:3), usually listed right along with those others most vulnerable: widows, children, and those in poverty.
I encourage you to take action in these issues facing us today, and to do so with passion. Take to heart Wendell Holmes Jr.’s words. Live, dear reader.
Stand with me. Join those of us who are committed to raising awareness about #wrongfulconvictions and #CJReform