On 60 Minutes last Sunday night, Bill Whitaker reported on the story of a man, Glenn Ford, who was in prison and on death row for 30 years for a crime he didn’t commit and the prosecutor who, eventually, admitted his mistakes in putting him there and apologized for them.  It was a powerful story on all sides. If you didn’t get a chance to see the segment and would like to, here it is:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/30-years-on-death-row-exoneration-60-minutes/

Many things about this story are troubling and fodder for discussion, but I want to focus on just one right now.

The acting district attorney of Caddo Parrish, Louisiana, where Mr. Ford was tried, convicted, and incarcerated  was interviewed for this piece, with questions directed toward understanding why Ford was denied the $330,000 due him as compensation for false imprisonment. Dale Cox was stone-faced and cold during the interview. Ford got justice in this case, according to Cox, albeit a “delayed justice” because, after all, was released from prison and from death row.  So ill, incidentally, that he only has a few months to live.

“In the original trial, prosecutors said Ford knew a robbery of Rozeman’s jewelry shop was going to take place. But he didn’t report it. Ford was never charged with that crime, but the state says that’s reason enough to deny him.” (from the above article)

The only thing the state of Louisiana provided Ford upon release was a $20 gift card, which he used to purchase a meal. When DA Cox indicated he believed that was the end of the state’s obligation to Ford, Whitaker asked him if he had any compassion for Ford and what he had been through in the last 30 years. Cox’s reply was immediate and chilling, if not predictable.  “I’m not in the compassion business, none of us as prosecutors or defense lawyers are in the compassion business.”

For several years now, our country has witnessed a rise in – or, at least a rise in the reportage of – violence, both domestically and internationally.  School shootings, police officers shooting and killing unarmed and often innocent black and mentally ill citizens, civilians retaliating and killing police officers nationwide, terrorists threats and bombings, religious and racial hatred resulting in the deaths of innocents, the widespread targeted killing and slaughter of animals worldwide. There have been small pockets of people here and there who have responded in positive, peaceful ways to try to facilitate healing and create dialogue, but on the whole, we continue to allow our emotions to take hold and we react in truly ugly and uncaring ways to the pain and suffering of our fellow man and other sentient beings.

Every single one of us needs to be in The Compassion Business.  Not just for the innocent men like Glenn Ford, but for the guilty ones, too. We need to take a look at ourselves first and try to understand what drives our hate and prejudice, what makes us think that what we believe is the only right way and must be forced onto others.  We need to figure out why our first response is always to harm and why our definition of justice is revenge.  We need to understand from where our anger arises.

I have never before seen such angry, hateful people as I have seen in this country in the last couple of years.

I imagine a world in which people who are depressed and anxious are listened to and understood and are able to get the therapy they need and the medication to correct their chemical imbalances without putting them in debt for the rest of their lives.

I imagine a world where people who have more serious mental illnesses are identified and given an opportunity for intensive treatment so that they are heard and understood and their thoughts do not escalate to harmfulff actions toward others.

I imagine a world where our first response, as humans, to an injustice, is not anger but compassion. Where we are able to acknowledge the suffering others experience and the humanity in everyone.

I imagine a world – and, indeed, a United States – where the brutality of torture is recognized, publicly condemned, and its use legally punished.  Where the death penalty is abolished and even those serving long-term prison sentences are treated humanely and with compassion.

I imagine a world – again, a United States – where law enforcement is better trained and more sensitive to people of color and people who are neurodivergent. Where objective observation and skilled negotiation take the place of profiling and emotional reaction.  Where citizens can, once again, approach an officer without fear for help and officers, once again, are hired to maintain the peace.

I imagine a world – a United States – where the governement is completely secular and religion plays no part in how it functions, the laws it creates, or the people it elects.

I imagine a world where there are no reasons for “terrorists” to target others, or for “terrorists” to exist.

I imagine a world – a United States – where everyone didn’t fire first and ask questions later.

I imagine a world where wild animals are permitted to remain in the wild and are neither hunted for sport or food.  Where humans do not raise and breed domestic animals for food, nor do they raise or breed any animals for research.

For now, I’m just going to work on myself.  Deepen my own sense of compassion, remind myself to be kind to others, stay mindful in all that I do, be honest and truthful.  Check my anger at the door, and remember that every sentient being suffers.  If we all did that, well…we wouldn’t have to worry about any of the above, would we?

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