Soon a group of Catholic nuns and other do-gooders will have to find something less meaningful to occupy their time.
For years, religious charities and nonprofits like Let's Start, Mothers and Children Together, and Parents and Their Children have been doing God's work, organizing free bus trips that briefly reunite imprisoned mothers and their offspring. The grandparents who look after these orphans (for it is almost always a grandparent and not a spouse) say money is too tight to afford a journey to the prisons in faraway Chillicothe or Vandalia.
For many of these Good Samaritans these bus trips were often the most meaningful work they have ever done. State lawmakers, however, will soon put an end to that.
Last week the Missouri House voted 126 to 23 to begin a two-year, $100,000 test program requiring the Department of Corrections (and taxpayers) to provide monthly transportation for kids to visit dear old mom in the slammer. The program was the brainchild of Rep. Penny Hubbard, a Democrat whose north St. Louis district is well represented in Missouri's stockades. According to Hubbard, cutting off kids from their mothers punishes innocent children.
While the state is creating new programs left and right, might I propose another? Legislators should be required to take an introductory course in logic. It was the mothers and their misdeeds (and not the Department of Corrections) that cut off these mothers from their children.
Mean old Republican Kurt Bahr of St. Charles was one of the few lawmakers to vote against the bill. Bahr said charities were already filling the need, so the state's involvement would be redundant. Despite Missouri's budgetary crunch, Democrats and Bahr's Republican colleagues overwhelmingly disagreed.
I sent the program's sponsor, Rep. Hubbard, an email in which I expressed my bewilderment. "Aren't charities like Let's Start, PATCH, and Mothers and Children Together, and others already filling this need? And are they not doing so with compassion and personal involvement? Do you think an indifferent, clock-watching bureaucrat will provide better service?"
Needless to say, I did not get a response.
However, I think I know what Rep. Hubbard would have said: To hell with charity. Poor Missourians have a right to free transportation to visit their mothers or fathers in the hoosegow.
AS CONSERVATIVES, WE firmly believe the family -- even the most hopeless of families -- is the institution most necessary to preserve. That is why we support religious and civic groups like St. Vincent de Paul and Mothers and Children Together. Some of us do more than support. My cousin drives the St. Vincent de Paul bus through the ruins of East St. Louis seeking out and feeding the homeless. My aged parents sometimes accompany him. Does Rep. Hubbard want the government to take over these duties too? If so, what will America's do-gooders do then? Sit around watching "The Biggest Loser"? No wonder civic organizations are on the decline. Government has made them irrelevant.
Adding to my dismay was news that the director of Let's Start, Sister Jackie Tobin, who organizes eight prison trips a year, testified on behalf of Rep. Hubbard and the pilot program. I asked Sister Jackie if there wasn't a risk that these important charitable groups will go away once the state makes them redundant. "Isn't this exactly what Christians are supposed to be doing?" I asked, and was reminded of an old hymn we used to sing in church on Sunday mornings:
And they'll know we are Christians by our love.
I recalled reading why the early Christians, when striving to convert Greeks to the new faith, were so successful. The Greeks beheld this strange new cult performing charitable works in a spirit of brotherly love and decided they wanted to be a part of that. Unlike Sister Jackie's group, these early Christians refused to have anything at all to do with the government. That was one reason the Romans persecuted them.
I did not get a response from Sr. Jackie. But I suspect she would have said that there are so many convicted felons that charities could never fill the need -- that there are a hundred criminals for every do-gooder. If that is the case, why bother? Perhaps it is time just to grab a shotgun and head for the hills.
But I doubt it has come to that. Not yet, anyway. My request of lawmakers would be that they give the do-gooders a chance to do some good. Helping one another is how we build community. And community is what we need if we want to reduce the number of mothers and fathers in prison. Not more government.