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The Call to Love Our Neighbors in Uncertain Times

During the COVID-19 crisis, Second Chance Month calls us to extend redemption and expand opportunity to those who are incarcerated, who never had a first chance to begin with.

This moment of global crisis must remind us that we are all continually seeking redemption, and that we are called to love and serve our neighbors.”

Like millions of Americans across our country, I’ve experienced the last few weeks with a mix of deep concern and grief, but also hopefulness, as we navigate a truly unprecedented shift in our daily lives in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. April 1 marks the beginning of Second Chance Month, a nationwide effort to raise awareness of the harmful collateral consequences of a criminal conviction, and unlock opportunities for people impacted by our badly broken criminal justice system. Disturbingly, the millions of people who are currently incarcerated across the U.S. – our neighbors, friends, and loved ones – are particularly vulnerable to this ferocious pandemic. Now, more than ever, this moment of global crisis must remind us that we are all continually seeking redemption, and that we are called to love and serve our neighbors.

In this time of uncertainty, it’s been a blessing to witness how Americans from all walks of life have shown love for each other: healthcare professionals, first responders, and grocery and sanitation workers are showing up on the frontlines to combat COVID-19, and millions of others have stepped up by staying home to help slow the spread of the virus to keep our more vulnerable neighbors, like the elderly and immunocompromised, safe.

Unfortunately, the 2.3 million people across our country who are incarcerated largely haven’t been extended similar protections, and they are tremendously susceptible to infection and terrible harm during this health emergency. Locked up in close quarters, with oftentimes little to no access to products that would help them meet basic hygiene standards, or no real opportunity to practice social distancing, people who are currently incarcerated are among those at the highest risk of contracting and spreading the highly-contagious COVID-19. News reports show us that this crisis is already striking people who are incarcerated in prisons and jails across the country, not to mention jail and prison staff who travel from prisons to their communities and back every day. Our elected leaders must take bold action to save lives and prevent further suffering.

This global coronavirus pandemic has shed new light - perhaps more than at any point we may remember in our lives - on how our health and wellbeing is tied to that of the least among us.”

It is imperative that they release people who are incarcerated, especially those who are most vulnerable to the disease because of their age or underlying health issues. They must also dramatically reduce the number of people who are entering prisons and jails in the first place.

And while we need urgent action right now to protect our neighbors who are incarcerated during this pandemic, I hope this particular moment grants us all a deeper understanding of the decades-long tragedy of our country’s mass incarceration crisis – and the terrible toll it takes on families and communities. Second Chance Month calls us to extend redemption and expand opportunity to our neighbors who have been incarcerated, many of whom, in truth, never had a first chance to begin with. Mass incarceration separates and devastates millions of families every day of the year, and destabilizes communities, all while failing to make our neighborhoods any safer. What if we instead welcomed people who are incarcerated back to reintegrate safely into our communities – putting resources to work to help them access employment and safe and affordable housing? This kind of deep investment in neighbor-love and community-building would pay dividends for our neighborhoods right now, and for generations to come.

The work of my life has been bearing witness to the transformative power of grace, and the redemption God offers to those who seek it. We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, and this global coronavirus pandemic has shed new light – perhaps more than at any point we may remember in our lives – on how our health and wellbeing is tied to that of the least among us. During the COVID-19 crisis, loving our neighbors and protecting each other must truly mean taking care of everyone among us, including our vulnerable neighbors who are incarcerated. I pray that this Second Chance Month grants our elected leaders the courage and the wisdom to take bold action with redemption at the forefront of their minds.

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