Despite its state-of-the-art computer graphics and eye-catching special effects, Minority Report is basically a chase movie built on a question—one that Charles Dickens explored in A Christmas Carol. Dickens's Ebenezer Scrooge asks the visiting spirits if his foretold future of loneliness and gloom is how things "will" be, or how they "might" be.
Seventeen-year-old Liam Q. joined the U.S. Navy to see the world. His test scores marked him for further training in a technical specialty, but Liam wanted to steer an aircraft carrier, so the navy made him a helmsman. As every sailor knows, shore leave is the most dangerous part of any cruise, and this turned out to be true for Liam. He fell in love with an older woman and was convicted of shooting her husband. In 1983, at the age of 19, he embarked on a different kind of cruise: a life sentence “up the river.”
At age 12 Lionel Tate killed his six-year-old playmate. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Five years later, in 2004, appellate courts overturned Tate’s conviction, and a plea bargain led to his release. But in 2005 he was arrested again for robbing a pizza delivery man, and he is now spending 30 years in prison.
Melvin Bailey spent five years in prison for selling drugs. After he got out of prison, he did what most ex-offenders do: he returned to his neighborhood and looked for work. But there weren’t many jobs on Chicago’s West Side, and even fewer open to former prisoners. Eventually he found work, but he didn’t forget how difficult his journey had been and how difficult it was for other ex-offenders.
The first major public building to reopen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina wasn’t a public school, hospital or courthouse. It was Orleans Parish Prison. And you can hardly blame Sheriff Marlin Gusman for being anxious to reopen it. David Morton reports in the New Republic (August 14 & 21) that every prisoner brings in from $22.39 to $43.50 per day in government funding.
You enter through a door in the back where a big sign says All Prisoners Must Be Shackled. New prisoners are admitted at seven in the evening. There are seven men waiting by the door tonight. Five are white and two are brown. The youngest might be 20, the oldest 60. Four have plastic grocery bags with their personal effects, and one has a brown paper bag.
Reading the Bible with the Damned. By Bob Eckblad. Westminster John Knox, 2005.
A stunning book about how studying scripture with the poor, with illegal immigrants, and especially with the imprisoned can produce extraordinarily beautiful readings—and hopefully, more redemptive politics.
Discipline and Punish. By Michel Foucault. Vintage, 1995.