April 21, 2012

#ChuckColson dead; grannies safer; prisoners still exploited

In case you've not heard, Charles Colson (Wiki bio), one of the last remaining major players in the Watergate scandal, is dead at age 80.

The grannies part of the header, for those unfamiliar with Watergate days, refers to Colson's work for Richard Nixon on behalf of the Committee to Re-Elect the President (yes, actual acronym of CREEP) when he said he'd walk over his own grandmother to get Tricky Dick re-elected.

The prisoners comment is a riff on his Prison Fellowship, which, the story says, Colson created "to minister to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families. It runs work-release programs, marriage seminars and classes to help prisoners after they get out." It was his new lease on life, riffing on his pre-conviction conversion for a new career.

And, let's start there with a reality dose on Colson's alleged post-Watergate saintliness.

Per the Yahoo story up top, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg said that Colson never really apologized for threatening to rough him up, just for his role in the burglary of Ellsberg's office. And, that wasn't the only roughing up Colson allegedly threatened to do, or had done, in service of CREEP.

But, he's got more to answer to as long-term head of Prison Fellowship.

First, here in Texas, he served as a "front" for then-Gov. George W. Bush to make overstated, even directly untruthful claims about the power of faith-based groups, not only in prison rehabilitation, but outside the walls. (Unfortunately, our current president, Dear Leader, Barack Obama, has actually expanded Bush's faith-based ministries presidential program. I'm surprised tea partiers haven't said that's part of his secret Muslim plan of U.S. control.)

Second, he got plugged in to The Family, the semi-secret inside-DC Christian prayer/activist group.

Third, he supported, in a letter he and other evangelical leaders sent to Bush, a just-war rationale for invading Iraq.

But, let's get back to those prisoners. First, on the faith-based programs issue, besides not always looking at their success rate, Colson ignored issues of constitutionality, even though one federal court had already, by the time he fronted for Bush, ruled that forced attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings was a First Amendment violation (thereby also, in essence, finding that AA was religious).

And, that's despite a 1987 quote, per his Time obit, that says differently:
Colson argues that each institution has a distinct, God-given role. Churches should emphasize spirituality and avoid the corrupting enticements of political power. Similarly, he opposes government- organized school prayers, insisting that “propagating moral vision” should be the job of the church, not the state.
Hmmm... seems to have ignored that, in reality.

But, let's not stop there.

If Colson REALLY cared about prisoners, then why did he never pair the power of his organization with Project Innocence? Riffing on that, why did he never try to persuade political and religious conservatives to face up to the issue of wrongful incarcerations?

For that matter, why didn't he address the socioeconomic reasons behind spiking incarceration rates? That would be the ever-rising incarceration rates that started rising a lot more rapidly about the time he got out of prison, as shown in the graphic, and about the time the income gap in America started widening again, in part due to the political conservativism he believed in. (And, no, it's not all due to population increases; by now, all baby boomers, AND, the kids of older baby boomers, have all "aged out"  of prime criminality ages.)

Why didn't he ever speak about the capitalistic, slavery-like part of the drive behind this, the push for ever more prison privatization, led by the privatizing companies like Wackenhut and Corrections Corporation of America? If he wanted to help those who were incarcerated live new lives after they got out, why didn't he address ongoing cuts in rehabilitation programs, especially at the private prisons? Ditto on his not addressing guard abuse, again, generally worse at private prisons.

And, that said, how much could a man who graduated an Ivy League school, who might be called an Eastern elitist by today's tea partiers (or by Spiro Agnew back then), who served seven months in a white-collar prison, really understand what he was dealing with?

For that matter, did Prison Fellowship cherry-pick the inmates with which it worked? I don't know, but it's possible; if anybody has any information about that, leave a comment.

No, Chuck Colson may have helped prisoners, but it was within a conservative agenda. The agenda was still running the show.

So, yes, before the hagiography machine runs too quickly, let's step back to reality.

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