I support the appointment of Burl Cain as the new head of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
I know Cain comes with some baggage. For details, you can read the column on the last week written by Tim Kalich, my 35-year colleague.
Tim Kalich is the best editorial writer in the state. He has won the top award for editorial writing, named after my grandfather Oliver Emmerich, six times, far more than anyone else. I have won it once.
Many of the editorials appearing in the Northside Sun are written by Tim, who was a protege of my father John Emmerich, when he was editor and publisher of the Greenwood Commonwealth. Tim followed in my father’s footsteps, one reason I never returned to Greenwood. He is like a brother to me.
When I review editorials for entry into the annual state contest, I often have to call up Tim and ask him, “Did I write this or did you?” because we think and write so much alike.
I am more of a free market guy than Tim. He is more defensive of government regulation. I am more intuitive and emotional in some of my judgement calls. Tim tends to be more analytical and by the book. It takes all kinds of people to make the world go round.
I sent out an editorial endorsing Cain just as Tim sent out a column criticizing his choice. An hour later, I got an apologetic email from Tim for the crossed wires.
I was a bit miffed at Tim. Not because he wrote a column that disagreed with me, but that he would think it necessary to email an apology to me.
If there is one thing I believe in and stand for as a professional journalist, it is an open exchange of ideas, thoughts and opinions, delivered in a respectful manner and considerate of the diversity of ideas necessary for a functioning democratic republic.
There is no need to belittle people whose opinions are different than yours.
Jesus Christ let us know clearly his opinion on this matter in Matthew 5: 22: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says,‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.’”
The violent riots we have just experienced, a reaction to the horrors of police brutality, illustrate how far we have to go as a nation to conduct the national discourse in a civil and dignified manner.
To be sure, I have opinions. Strong opinions. But I always try to humble myself and acknowledge the very real possibility that I could be wrong.
Now getting back to Burl Cain: His transgressions in Louisiana, and his advanced age of 77, are offset by his tremendous experience, his fervent belief in his mission and his amazing accomplishments at the Angola maximum security prison in Louisiana.
Numerous articles, videos, programs and even books have been written about how Cain turned Angola into a prison based on redemption and corrections rather than condemnation and punishment. A simple Google search will give you ample opportunity to educate yourself on this if you have the time and energy.
Yes, he got caught up with some self-dealing, as Tim describes in sufficient detail. But the charges never stuck, and he was never found guilty of a crime. Further investigation exonerated Cain. I believe we should accept the official findings.
I was introduced to Cain through Northsider David McNair, who I met when he was a donor to Clean Water for Malawi. McNair’s support over the years helped us drill hundreds of water wells bringing clean water to half a million impoverished Africans.
David has been spending the weekends at Angola every other month where he teaches a prison course on starting a business. As a result, David has been an eyewitness to the transformation of Angola from what was a hellhole. “The guards don’t carry guns. It’s more like a college campus,” he told me.
Angola has a prison magazine, a radio and TV station, there are real jobs, training, education and rehabilitation. There are six chapels and a vibrant prison ministry. No doubt, it’s not perfect, but they are moving in the right direction. That’s what we need at Parchman, where prison ministry has been turned away because of security concerns.
Jesus also had an opinion about how we should treat prisoners. Matthew 25:36: “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.”
There is a profound disconnect in our state between our religious beliefs and our incarceration system. On Sunday, we believe in redemption but then on Monday, we run our prisons like punitive hellholes.
It has not worked. Costs have skyrocketed. Gangs are rampant. Mentally ill prisoners are abused. And our incarceration rate is one of the highest in the world.
It’s wrong, and it needs to stop. These people have sinned. They have done wrong, but they are still precious in the eyes of the Lord.
The selection committee consisted of a mayor, a parole board member, a county sheriff, a DA, an appellate judge and a prison reform advocate. That’s a broad spectrum.
For over an hour, I interviewed Cain in my office. He was full of energy, fervor and passion to reform Parchman. Indeed, his prison ministry foundation is bringing change through the world.
It’s a huge task. An impossible task without tapping into the power of the Holy Spirit.