Lessons from Cook County’s Sheriff
Guest post by Breanna Sweeney
A year ago, I had the absolute privilege of attending a talk with the Cook County Sheriff, Tom Dart. Sheriff Dart spoke at length about his plans and actions in implementing and restructuring the Cook County Department of Corrections. If you recall, our last post mentioned how this particular Corrections Department has become the largest mental health facility — following a disturbing trend when funding is cut. Sheriff Dart has been a passionate supporter of prisoner’s rights and criminal justice reform.
Once the talk ended, Sheriff Dart took held a Q&A. It was going well until a student stood up and questioned Sheriff Dart’s stance on the ease with which someone is released from jail. The student’s qualm stemmed from a story Sheriff Dart told us: an inmate was jailed for selling drugs and knew he would end up in jail again. He told this to Sheriff Dart as a way of reminding him how difficult it is to be afforded opportunities after being released. In turn, Sheriff Dart felt it was important to relay this story in order that we better understand the importance of equal opportunities upon release. And to emphasize the truth that every life holds a multi-layered story.
This did not sit well with the student.
She challenged the notion that, if she could get her life together, the inmate should, too. As the room fell quiet, Sheriff Dart was gracious, curious, and kind as he responded. He explained his position on carrying for the person in front of him — incarcerated or not — as a way of combating his own judgments, and to remind them of their immense value in this world. Unfortunately, the student still found it hard not to compare her struggles with someone in prison.
An easy mistake. A mistake, I believe, we are all capable of doing.
In all fairness, we at Love Works wholeheartedly believe in hard conversations. We desire to see both sides of an issue come together and engage in healthy dialogue. What would this world look like if we were all more aware of our edges? Sheriff Dart modeled this so well, especially as someone whose lifelong work is to see our prison systems transformed for the better.
As a reminder, we cannot wait to see you at our
Spotlight on Prison & the Stigma of Criminality on Tuesday, April 25th!