A Prayer for Permission to Live. A Prayer to Be Human.

I thought initially that I would structure this as a prayer. I’m not religious but I understand the function, the meditativeness of prayer on things that we find troubling. To some degree, it is still that but I’m not talking to any god. I’m talking to you, the community. 

In this holiday season, as we spend time with our families and reminisce about days gone by and those we have lost, I ask you to take a moment to remember those you don’t know but those who deserved to be here with us. Remember the 12 people who died, tragically in the hands of Louisville Metro Corrections. 

In this week’s cover story, our news writer, Josh Wood, delves into the lives of some of the people lost in the custody of Louisville Metro Corrections. Instead, and like too many cases across the country, the only remedy for those society deems undesirable, better unseen, too challenging — or for those who too directly reflect the flaws in the American fabric back in the faces of those who don’t like seeing America as imperfect — is to lock them away, maybe to forget they exist. 

Case after case, the deaths in Metro Corrections point to the fact that no one was looking. So, for various reasons —  many petty and unnecessarily carceral — these people died because of a neglectful and cold system. 

Being poor, being mentally ill, being out of step with what society calls normal, should not mean a death sentence in our justice system, but for too many it does. 

Too often those in these situations have multiple intersecting issues and are incarcerated and kept because they can’t meet the bail amount to free themselves. So their incarceration becomes a poor tax. 

These situations quickly become uroborus ones where feeding and devouring itself happens in the same breath. The system preys upon the huddled masses that this nation has claimed to accept for more than 240 years. If you are tired, poor, hungry or any of the “wretched refuse” of this country, any one of these people in Wood’s story could be you. Or someone you know. 

So, as you read about Buddy Stevens, Thomas “TJ” Bradshaw and Stephanie Dunbar, remember that above all of the issues and things that make them complicated people, they are people first. They were warm bodies that loved, hurt, made families and lived their complicated lives in a world out of step with what they needed. Remember, too, that these people were sacrificed to a system that isn’t created for the needs of human beings. 

TJ Bradshaw was arrested for panhandling — for asking for what he lacked, money. Whether it be for food, a place to lay his head or for drugs to forget the cruelty of his situation, he was simply asking for help. To be jailed for this is outrageous and to then lose one’s life because they simply asked for help is even more insidious. 

Metro Corrections has asked, repeatedly, for a new facility, blaming their problems on a dilapidating facility that wasn’t even originally built to be a jail, antiquated intake and maintenance procedures. What could come first is to stop incarcerating people for things that don’t deserve a penal response. We could stop persecuting people for being broken, sad, poor or anything that isn’t pretty to look at. We could have some fucking compassion and let people be, even if we find it imperfect, unpalatable or uncomfortable. Everyone deserves, at least, the chance to live. To simply live. •

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