Friday of the First Week of Advent
The deep pain of waiting is something that has become a part of my work. With my students, I seek clemency for those serving long sentences for low-level and non-violent narcotics offenses. I get to know their families well as they wait with a mixture of hope and fear.
A few weeks ago I was in Washington DC, at a vigil in front of the White House. Many of the family members I have come to know were there. One of them was a woman named Veda. We have corresponded with for years, as her brother is incarcerated for a non-violent narcotics offense. She has been a remarkable advocate and hero, pushing me to take on his case (I prepared and submitted his petition earlier this year). As we talked, she told me about the sleepless nights and worry, the disappointment that her brother has not been on the lists of those given clemency, and the slam of despair that came after the election for her and many other African-Americans. I gave her something, an ancient Roman coin bearing the name of the Goddess Clementia, and she broke down. I held her as she sobbed, all the sadness and heartbreak pouring out of her. It was deep and real and true, for both of us.
When Jesus began his ministry, he told his family and neighbors that he had come to "proclaim release to the captives" and "to let the oppressed go free." Each of us is captive; each of us oppressed. But it is for those who are literally, physically captive that these words may mean the most.
One part of the work I do-- the joyous part-- is calling and telling people their petition has been granted. The prisoner is called to the warden's office and handed a phone, and I give them the good news. In August I called a man named Robert, a Christian. I simply said "God is good." He knew what that meant, and replied (as we do) "all the time." Sometimes, during the waiting, that is hard to remember.
Mark Osler, Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law, School of Law