For People of Faith,
Hopeless is What We Do!

SOPHIA’s 2011 Annual Religious Leaders Breakfast brought over 30 participants together for the rare opportunity to experience a graceful synthesis between Law and Gospel. In the world of theology, these two polemics are many times held in tension with one another, but at the feet of Rev. Jerry Hancock*, we observed a sense of harmony.

Pastor Hancock began his presentation on November 30thwith the startling information that a young black man in the city of Madison is 280 times more likely to go to prison than a young Caucasian living in Madison. This is not because the system is unfair but because of disparity. He followed with this explanation, “Wisconsin, by some measures, leads the nation in racial disparity, in fact; by some measures Wisconsin leads the world in racial disparity.” That disparity is evident in employment opportunities, transportation, education, family support financial resources. Where some are able to receive counseling from private providers almost immediately, others need to wait up to 6 months to receive counseling from county human services.

Next Pastor Hancock moved to what he called THEOLOGICALLY APPROPRIATE, RESTORATIVE JUSTICE. Restorative justice does more than focus on the harm caused by crime but attempts to bring together the victim, offender and the community so healing can take place.

This year’s Religious Leaders Breakfast provided insight into the 11 X 15 Campaign. Through this emphasis WISDOM will be advocating to cut the Wisconsin prison population (non-violent offenders) from approximately 22,000 to 11,000 by 2015. This will only be accomplished if the $1 Billion presently spent on incarceration is allocated to provide a broad range of available, proven effective treatments. Why spend $1 Billion on incarceration when, like the State of Minnesota, we can provide needed and humane services and treatments for fewer dollars?

An immediate response to the 11 X 15 campaign may be to say this is hopeless, but as Pastor Hancock concluded his presentation, “For people of faith, hopeless is what we do!” 

*Pastor Hancock is a second career pastor. His first career spanned 35 years in the criminal justice system, serving many roles, including assistant attorney general. Upon retirement he attended seminary in Chicago and now serves First Congregational United Church of Christ in Madison as Director of the Prison Ministry Project.