"I was in prison and you came to visit me ... I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." -- Matthew 25:36, 40
Recently, as Hillary Clinton breakfasted in midtown Manhattan with the "Reverend" Al Sharpton and influential black leaders in central Manhattan, Pope Francis was en route to break bread with inmates at infamous Ciudad Juarez Prison in northwest Mexico.
The Pope did his usual routine: scrubbed feet, held hands, hugged, kissed and blessed hundreds of the most despised, debased, disposable south of the border desperados. Ms Clinton did her usual routine too: posing as a modern day Harriet Tubman, ready to fight the Good Fight for black civil rights and the rights of women and children.
Watching Hillary at breakfast, I fantasized would be a golden opportunity for Her to drift away from the usual canned script of talking points and instead compare herself to the Pope by pointing out her own her own past experiences visiting prisons to bring hope and comfort to the countless wretched souls trapped, buried and forgotten in the bowels of America's countless, medieval houses of detention. Indeed it was a golden opportunity. Except for Hillary has no such past experience to point to. Which brings me to the story of the good neighbor...that wasn't.
So close yet so far.
Bedford Hills "Correctional" Facility is a women's maximum security prison tucked away into suburban Westchester. Directly across the road from this intimidating mile high fortress is the Taconic "Correctional" Facility for women. Behind the walls of these two institutions as many as 1,200 women (many adolescents) live nightmarish around-the-clock lives of utter despair and hopelessness -- victims of New York's cruel, unforgiving and racist criminal justice system. Last year, a young women, who just couldn't take it anymore, hanged herself in her cell.
I began visiting inmates on a regular basis in 1997 as director of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice. Back then, the Kunstler Fund had turned its full attention and resources exposing and seeking repeal of the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws, which had jammed the prisons with non-violent, low level drug offenders. We began the by organizing the direct and indirect victims of these discriminatory and draconian legal codes -- that is prisoners and their families. They called themselves the Mothers of the New York Disappeared inspired by the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, also, like Pope Francis, of Argentina. These women had lost their own children in that country's "dirty war" of 1976-1983 (which was aided and abetted by Hillary's friend and advisor Henry Kissinger).
As one element of our overall organizing efforts, I made the trip to Bedford and Taconic more times than I care to remember, often once or twice a week. Going up was easy. Comng back was not -- that is, on my psyche. For on the drive back I kept having flashes of "there but for the grace of god" but on steroids. I felt these women behind bars were doing my time.
In fact, many good people think those women are doing their time, as well. And they try to honor that feeling. Folks like Sister Elaine and Sister Tesa, who do God's work all day at Hour Children, seem to make that hourly trip to Bedford and Taconic prisons every day, offering what comfort they can to those 1,200 incarcerated women and adolescent girls. And actor/writer Charles Grodin, now age 80, can also be seen there on a regular basis. Many other prominent people come as well -- quietly, humbly, without fanfare or public attention.
But one prominent person -- perhaps the most famous of all -- has never paid a visit to the 1,200 incarcerated women in Bedford and Taconic prisons at all. Not once. Even though she takes great pride in presenting herself as a champion of women.
Which is strange to me. For unlike Sister Elaine and Sister Tesa, Hillary Clinton would not have to spend an hour driving or on the train to visit Bedford and Taconic prisons. She's practically their next door neighbor. In fact, she has been living a mere 12 minutes down the road from those dismal houses of incarceration for the last 17 years, in her $5.9 million mansion, at 15 Old House Lane in Chappaqua.
So I had a hard time understanding -- as I watched her eating breakfast with Sharpton and company -- why this self-proclaimed "lifelong progressive" and "crusader for women's rights" had never taken the opportunity to traverse the short 8.1 mile drive from her gated estate in Chappaqua to the somewhat differently gated estate of those 1,200 unfortunate women in Bedford Hills and Taconic prisons, many of them mothers just like her.
At the midtown breakfast, Hillary brushes it all aside and turns everyone's attention to her time with the Children's Defense Fund. Of course, she makes no mention of what the Fund's founder, Marian Wright Edelman, said in 1995 after Bill Clinton signed the welfare reform bill that Hillary supported, "His signature on this pernicious bill makes a mockery of his pledge not to hurt children."
And now we see Morgan Freeman in ubiquitous pro-Hillary ads. When I see these ads I think of my father, who, prior to my birth spent 10 years in the Ohio State Reformatory at Mansfield. It just so happens it's the same penitentiary where The Shawshank Redemption was shot, a film in which Mr. Freeman received an academy award nomination for best actor. So there you have it: dad did real time in a prison. Freeman did fictional time in prison. Pope Francis does part time in prison. As for Hillary Clinton, you can ask the women in her own backyard.
THIS POST FIRST APPEARED IN THE ALBANY TIMES UNION.