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Dave Brisbin

Beyond Justice

Desperate for a different outcome, a mother asks me to visit her son in county jail on a drug charge. Visiting an inmate is much like the movies: huge sterile waiting space, walls an unnamable yellowish beige green, bolted down metal benches, stenciled black numbers over an endless wall of doors. Waiting. Lots of waiting. A flat male voice calling my name and two numbers. One for the door, one for the window. Through the door, long corridor with windows on both sides, bolted stools before each with small acoustic panels between that give a bit of break between visitors but no privacy. All the voices of all the conversations ringing through the corridor.

I sit before my window waiting again, struck by the energy in the rows. Women dressed their best—hair, eyes, makeup—parents, grandparents, children as if at family dinner on my side of the glass, all orange jumpsuits on the other. Laughter, pitched voices, Spanish, English, hands not holding the handset waving with the words. I catch a young woman leaning forward almost to the glass. The intensity, tone of voice, soft laughter…she was sitting across white tablecloth and candlelight with her man. Leaning right past window and handset, there was no offense, no charges, just her man. At that moment, she was completely orange colorblind.

Like the elder brother of the prodigal, coming home in disgrace to his father’s open arms, we can cry foul, unfair, unjust. What about the charges, the victims of his offense? It seems God is orange colorblind too—doesn’t see faults. Only love. But isn’t God supposed to be just? He is, in the macro, in groups where love has to look like justice, resolving conflict with the least amount of damage. But God doesn’t love us as a group. Past the group, to the one beloved, where there is no victim, love has to look like mercy and compassion, unbalancing the scales of justice always in favor of the beloved.

We can criticize, even ridicule the young woman. Say she is co-dependent, enabling, a doormat. And maybe she was. But I’d give anything to have my beloved look at me that way. Past the glass. Past my orange jumpsuit.


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