Ray McGovern to Gov. Brown on Prisons

In recent weeks, prisoners in California’s over-crowded prison system have been on hunger strikes demanding more humane treatment. This crisis has prompted Jesuit-schooled, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern to write an open letter an appeal for justice to California Gov. Jerry Brown, who also received Jesuit training.

By Ray McGovern

July 22, 2011

Dear Gov. Brown,

I’m thinking that the Jesuits who educated you probably told you, as they did me, that Ignatius of Loyola required all Jesuits, including the highly educated ones, to empty bedpans at local hospitals and prisons on a regular basis. 

The current crisis in California prisons brings this to mind and prompts my appeal to you to remember what you and I learned in high school and college in the Fifties. A huge opportunity has been dropped on your doorstep to bring Justice for those in prison.

Ignatius wanted to ensure that his followers in the Society of Jesus would not forsake the society of ordinary, often marginalized, folks like the ones Jesus of Nazareth hung out with.

Ignatius, you may remember, was all too familiar with the kind of suffering and oppression in hospitals and prisons. The bedpan requirement was his way of warning his followers not to trade Jesus’s preferential option for the poor for the allure of ivory towers, or for governors’ mansions, for that matter.

Let me fast-forward to one of Ignatius’s more recent successors, Hans-Peter Kolvenbach, S.J., who led the Society from 1983 to 2008. Like so many Jesuits Kolvenbach was over-educated in the Academy. By the time he became Superior General, though, he had gotten Jesus’s main thrust exactly right, saying this:

“Personal involvement with the injustice others suffer is the catalyst for solidarity. This, then, gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.”

And so did Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J., get it right. Speaking last November on the 21st anniversary of the murder of his six Jesuit colleagues in San Salvador, their housekeeper and her daughter, Ellacuria warned:

“Cuando la situación histórica se define en términos de injusticia y opresión, no hay amor cristiano sin lucha por la justicia.” [“When the historical situation is defined in terms of injustice and oppression, there is no Christian love without a fight for justice.”]

Very much in the same tradition is Dean Brackley, S.J., who was a professor at my alma mater, Fordham University, and also a community organizer in my native Bronx. Dean left immediately for El Salvador to replace one of the slain Jesuits, and has been there ever since. Before he left, Dean put his theology in language we Bronxites could readily grasp:

“It all depends on who you think God is, and how God feels when little people get pushed around.”

Governor Brown, I believe I know “where you’re coming from,” as folks say these days. At Fordham Prep and College during the 1950s in the Bronx, I experienced the best of the Ratio Studiorum and the college curricula the Jesuits had to offer. You had a similar, if not identical, experience in high school and college in California.

But nothing is perfect. I’ve since become aware of one earlier misunderstanding. In Moral Theology we were taught that the basic thing to remember was the mandate to “Do good and avoid evil.”

Taking refresher courses in theology at Georgetown several years ago, I learned that this formula is only half-right. We are not called to avoid evil; we are called to confront it, in the prison system, and anywhere else injustice reigns.

Again, I think I know where you’re coming from, but I cannot say I know where you’re going. It’s hard to see you now in the same frame with bedpans, the ones at Pelican Bay, for example.  This may be metaphor, but it is, I would suggest, a telling one. And I would urge you to reflect on it. 

Are you afraid that, if you rise to Kolvenbach’s invitation to “personal involvement with the injustice others suffer,” this might leave you no option but to act prophetically, and take the political flak? Please don’t get tied up in political knots. I’m guessing you still believe that the eventual reward for a prophetic stance will be out of this world, so to speak.

I guess what I am really asking you is to go back to your roots. Pay heed not only to the example of Jesuits like Kolvenbach, Ellacuria and Brackley, but also to Bishop Oscar Romero, who so often repeated to the oppressed Salvadoran people what Jesus repeated with similar frequency: “Don’t be afraid.” Romero was quite specific in his challenge:

“Hay cristiano hoy en dia significa no temer, no callar por miedo.” [“To be a Christian today means not being afraid, not silenced by fear.”]

Silence, inaction are not options for followers of Jesus and Ignatius, both of whom mandated preferential concern and care for the marginalized, prisoners, for example.

You are in a unique position to do Justice. Do it, Jerry, ad majorem Dei gloriam, AMDG, the emblematic Jesuit motto.

In Truth, Justice, and (then) Peace,

Ray McGovern

Tell the Word

The Ecumenical Church of the Saviour

Washington, DC

9 comments for “Ray McGovern to Gov. Brown on Prisons

  1. sexyradiovoice
    July 30, 2011 at 23:06

    Dear ray,
    As a doctor and an anthropologist, I have a significant concern about a book title I have recently seen on the Internet: “The Weaponizition of Anthropology”. I know how this works, because I am an anthropologist. Bibi has done everything he can to eliminate the possibility of peaceful, nonviolent dissent. That means that the only way Palestinians can win is to sacrifice their women. By eliminating all other forms of protest, sending defenseless mothers and grandmothers to face body-armored gun-wielding assassins will become the only way Palestinians can demonstrate their plight. The world rejection of this atrocity will hopefully dissuade it. But I’m not confident. After all, I’m an anthropologogist.

  2. July 27, 2011 at 01:34

    It would certainly be good if prisons and the entire legal system were run more justly. I’ve read 90% are in prison without physical evidence [Barry Scheck, Time May 31, 2010 p.29]. Without physical evidence, there is no proof that 90% of the prisoners should be there. They should be released before determining actual guilt or innocence with DNA testing on the rest, which can return false results 20% of the time according to Scheck on CNN. The Innocence Project reported rape victims accuse people falsely 25% of the time and there is no reason to assume any less error for other crimes. That corresponds to generic error on decisions made with 90% confidence which are wrong 20-30% of the time according to an article in Harvard Business Review, June 2001. Since a man who murdered another man by beating him to death received only 5 years, that should be the maximum penalty for all crimes except multiple counts. Because of the adversarial debate in trials, it is guaranteed one lawyer is lying and the other is telling the truth but as we see from the 90% figure, truth rarely wins. To reduce error I suggest establishing innocence judges who would immediately examine cases after sentencing for signs of railroading so innocents wouldn’t have to wait 2-3 years for an appeal — Gerry Spence called this a good idea. All this would be greater social justice than currently exists in the legal system.

    None of that social justice is Christian. Jesus Christ is a spiritual being who walked on earth as God’s absolute perfection in human form to show people there is a heavenly realm where we can live on lunches turned into feasts for thousands and water turned to wine by God’s miracle power, we can have healings without hospitals, we can do all He did and more by simply believing Jesus, not Paul. For details on bringing so called houses of God to justice, see http://www.wantdesk.com and for a hint on starting to live by God’s economy instead of man’s, watch the videos by Sid Roth at http://www.wantdesk.com/video and for an attempt to combine both church and state read http://www.congressionalbiblestudy.org

    Here’s a postcard I sent to a judge who summoned me to appear for jury duty. He didn’t excuse me but I believe supernatural prayer helped the parties find peace so the trial was cancelled. I was not summoned since.

    Thank you for your invitation to be on a jury dated 3-30-11. In addition to the questionnaire information, I should inform you that I am routinely dismissed because of prior experience being run into on a bicycle by a drunk driver during which I became unconscious. A judge in federal court called this serious, even though there was no medical damage I’m aware of and no court case. Therefore to save time both for me and the Juror interview process, I request exemption.

    There may be another reason which might get rejection by one or both sides. Although I have not been involved in a criminal or civil trial myself, I was involved in a mediation. Also, I am aware of “jury nullification” which is the only way to override court procedures that hide certain kinds of evidence from the jury. I watched in the Clatskanie City Court where a defendant successfully argued the radar gun could be in error. I am aware both sides in the “adversarial” system can be expected to lie, so without physical evidence it is usually a coin toss on who is really at fault. I have read [Barry Scheck, Time May 31, 2010 p.29] that 90% in prison are there without physical evidence indicating, statistically, without physical evidence, it would serve justice more often for jurors to guess against the state.

  3. Bill
    July 22, 2011 at 21:17

    It will take black people to fix this. There must be an awakening of black people before this goes away. I am blessed with white skin, and I know I have succeeded because of that. My Grandfather was called, “ Blackie Murphy” behind closed doors. He always wore a hat and long sleeves. When he went out, he always kept his hands in his pockets. He couldn’t afford a sun-tan. His Grandfather was darker than he was, and his Grandfather was a slave. Nobody ever called my Grandfather “Blackie Murphy” to his face. They were afraid of him. His father came from Louisiana.

    The white side of my family came from Ireland. I am a “Murphy” on both sides: half slave and half white poverty. Nobody knows I’m black, and nobody would ever guess. But I know what gets said behind closed doors. I know how deep the river runs. It’s like that line in Mark Twain’s novel about the explosion of the boiler on a river boat. Somebody asks, “ Did anybody get hurt?” The answer was, “No, but a couple of Nxxxers died”.

    I know I can’t win, but I need to express my opinion. The tragic thing is that our government wants to ban these books and this language. This language documents the truth. Please hang on and keep speaking the truth. I know I may be more a liability than an asset, but fundamentally, we both have the same soul. Please keep speaking the truth.

  4. Ethan Allen
    July 22, 2011 at 16:29

    Date: 22 July 2011
    To: Ray McGovern
    From: An actual rehabilitated IC asset
    Subj: Dissembling and nuanced slander
    Re: Fake letter to Gov. Brown on Prisons published in ConsortiumNews 22
    July 2011

    CC: ConsortiumNews editor
    Governor Gerry Brown
    Other concerned parties


    While I certainly understand why someone with your ‘professional history’ might feel a need to re-invent yourself as some sort of born-again activist disguised as a progressive advocate for humanitarian justice, this latest exercise seems to more clearly hearken back to your previous incarnation as a serial propagandist and dissembler of fact. I take no pleasure in having discovered this salacious missive in my ‘inbox’ in the guise of a ConsortiumNews update, and rather or not this reply is censored/deleted by the sites editors, as has happened when I have confronted your skillful dissembling previously, I am compelled none-the-less, by truth and reason, to confront your ‘artful’ rhetorical construction once again.

    Regarding your self-edifying piety, ostensibly established by an association with cult beliefs that historically not only defy reason, but fail to put into practice what they advocate, just exactly how many metaphorical “prisoner’s bedpans” have you serviced? And, beings you liken yourself to Christ-like motivations in your divinations of Governor Brown’s personal spirituality; how would “He” as such an august Deity, or any of his many Jesuit acolytes that you so sincerely reference, regard your taking such license with something as spiritually fundamental as truth? This is not a rhetorical query good sir, as you well know. In your nuanced impeachment of Governor Brown’s concern for those incarcerated in California you say:

    “Ignatius, you may remember, was all too familiar with the kind of suffering and oppression in hospitals and prisons. The bedpan requirement was his way of warning his followers not to trade Jesus’s preferential option for the poor for the allure of ivory towers — or for governors’ mansions, for that matter.”

    Of course the dark and disingenuous innuendo (read intentional implication) that Governor Brown is some sort of wealthy elitist hypocrite that disdains association with the downtrodden and disenfranchised while he lives an opulent (“ivory tower”) life-style in his “mansion” is nothing more than a lie; nothing more, and nothing less! He does not live in the state-owned governor’s mansion; he resides in his modest home in Oakland, and has since taking office. He is not wealthy, and has recently fought off a bank foreclosure of his home.
    I shall not pretend to divine what Governor Brown’s present personal spiritual, moral, or ethical inclinations are, or what may motivate them, but his actions over the course of his public career indicate that he has a healthy regard for the truth, public service, and equal justice and liberty as enshrined in our Constitution. Presently he, his Lt. Governor Gaven Newsome, and Attorney General, having all been in office for only six months, have made great strides toward moving California and its people out of the quagmire of economic and political corruption that has been fostered by decades of inept governance.
    I suffer under no illusion that this missive will deter your continued efforts to cloak yourself in popular rhetoric, or prevent you from using your professionally honed skills to undermine and slander those which you are ideologically opposed to; but I do regard it as important that you, and your facilitators, understand that there are those that understand that you sir are a charlatan, and a willing proponent of behavior that continues to intentionally dis-inform our people and lead them away from forming a more perfect union.

    • Gregory L Kruse
      July 25, 2011 at 13:34

      Yours is the “artful rhetoric”. You could have simply said, “Jerry Brown:Good. Ray McGovern:Evil.” Holy Moly, what a stream of crap!

  5. Annette Saint John Lawrence
    July 22, 2011 at 16:13

    Thank you Mr. McGovern for this wonderful and very much needed article. A have always
    remembered this quote in French from an unknown author : Qui ne dire rien consents (He
    who say nothing consents). I have heard some say I’m neutral about what ever is happening.
    There is nothing righteous about seeing the wrong and doing somnething to assist the
    process of making it right. The great people through out time did that. If they hadn’t,
    we would still have slavery, segregation, no women’s rights and so on. I Love the title of
    the documentary movie on Howard Zinn, “You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train”.

    We as a nation and a World are so in need of a humane humanity. I thank you for yours.

  6. Rick Faust
    July 22, 2011 at 12:54

    We need a Bastille Day in the United States!

  7. Tony G
    July 22, 2011 at 11:12

    Remember that these shot-callers that started this strike had a choice,, a choice that would & will remove them from the SHU,,, They dont have to stay there,, they still want to run their scams and hustles…
    Also, What happened to seperation between God & Government ,,,, I am Christian, but its not right for gov to be able to use that just when they want to,,, we cant….

  8. Paola Pettigrew
    July 22, 2011 at 09:59

    And look at what happened to Bishop Romero!I very much doubt that governor Brown is a hero or a martyr to anything but his own greed for power which obliterates everything.Why would he choose the poor,the most powerless(and in that lies the crux of the matter),people who have been reduced to nothing,they can’t even vote!There is no rationality in that,is there Jerry?
    I am the mother of one of those dangerous criminals who never committed an act of violence until he found himself in one of your”rehabilitation”facility and every day I think about the men who get to decide his fate inside the prison.Men who are often as corrupted as he is ,but also have have the power of what amounts to life or death.I am talking of course of the California Department of Rehabilitation,a dream job for liars,hypocrits and sadist.Infinite power corrupts infintely,especially when in the hands of uneducated people who all of a sudden find themselves in that position.California could be the garden of Eden as Woody used to sing,but not if you don’t have the do-re-mi.Then it could turn into an endless nightmare,a place where the major industry is the branding and imprisoning of young men that often could have been rehabilitated.But it is easier to do it like that,isn’it Jerry?Park the hoodlums somewhere for life,hoping they might kill each other fast and put other hoodlums in charge of them.Pragmatism at his best.
    Sincerely and with contempt,
    Paola Pettigrew.

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