#PlyWords on Justice from Jasmine Crowe

"Justice is when the law is applied according to way it was written, as the law is written to help  people on both sides of a case. As I sit and think about this more, sometimes justice is not when the offender is given a life sentence for a crime that they have committed, but it is when the person who has committed the crime gets the help he/she needs so that they won't commit that crime again.

I think that it's an injustice that tonight 42 million people are going to go to bed hungry including 13 million children and seven million seniors. All of this while we waste 72 billion pounds of good food every year. No one should ever have to decide if food is a necessity in their household, food should be a basic right, and Goodr is working to solve this problem.

In today's society people believe that justice is when the offender gets what they have coming to them. But true justice is about helping both the victim, victim's family or even the offender  heal the hurt. Too often justice is one-sided and not equal as it relates to race and class; it's simply unjust. True justice is something that is intended to help a person. Justice is not only about keeping the law, it is respect for the rights of others, fairness and equality of treatment, the common good; it is honesty and truth in our relationships. A contribution that we can all make is to speak up for what is right, be a voice for the voiceless and ensure that our lawmakers make laws that benefit everyone and not just the elite."

-Jasmine Crowe,


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#Plywords on Justice from Debbie Wells

A personal account from Debbie Wells, Founder of Reaching Beyond Bars:

"On November 14, 2007, my life was forever changed. I received a phone call stating that my 17-year-old son had been involved in a crime that would lead him to prison. Once detained and evaluated, he was diagnosed with having bi-polar and mild personality disorder and sent to serve out his sentence in a mental health prison. Although he faced many challenges while incarcerated, there was no greater challenge than when he walked out of the gates as a free man—he was given a gold envelope with no plan of action, no medication or prescription, no help and little hope. What was supposed to be his second chance, became just another sentence.

Although my son was now in the “free world,” he wasn’t free. He continued to wrestle with his mental illness. He faced many other challenges, such as finding housing, gaining employment, and securing reliable transportation. He feared that he'd never be able to establish a stable environment for he and his daughter.

We were not able to receive any assistance, forcing me to work through the roadblocks on my own.  It was then that I remembered the faces of those around me when I visited my son during his incarceration, realizing that they too, would someday face the same challenges my son had faced. In an attempt to change this harsh reality, Reaching Beyond Bars was created.

The mission of Reaching Beyond Bars is to give both youth and adults returning home the opportunity at a fair and just second chance by providing them with the necessary resources and tools to live a self-sustaining life. With the help of our volunteers, donors, and partnerships, all returning citizens can make real strides towards success.

They say Justice is blind, but is she also deaf.  In my work, the cries of the young, the old, the poor and mentally ill go unheard.  The world does not seem fair while evil still abounds, and so those oppressed petition God to intervene on their behalf.  Justice can hardly be found amongst those charged with ruling our nation with fairness and equity. Instead we seem to be bombarded by the “system” of plea bargaining, overburdened and overpopulated prisons, and an alarming number of wrongful convictions. In America today, data shows that only three percent of those charged with a federal crime will see a jury trial.  In fact, there was no jury trial for my son when they attempted to send him away on a 10-year mandatory sentence.  Where is/was the justice in that?  

In the United States, dozens of 13- and 14-year-old children have been sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole after being prosecuted as adults. A study by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has documented 73 cases where children 13 and 14 years of age have been condemned to death in prison. Almost all of these kids currently lack legal representation and in most of these cases the propriety and constitutionality of their extreme sentences have never been reviewed.   

Some may ask, “What can I do? This is too big for one person.” Trust me, it’s not a one person job.  It will take us all.  Our responsibility as a nation is to act justly which should inspire us to CONSTANTLY speak out against injustice in forums, with friends and family, organizations embedded in this work, social media, etc.  Over criminalization, especially in the US is a liberty issue. Every American should know if they are about to break the law, and have the right to choose not to break it. Because there are so many laws, many of which are so capricious, almost everyone is ignorant of these laws on some level. The laws in most cases, vary from state to state.  For example, my son was 17 and was charged with armed robbery but didn’t have a gun. This charge carries a minimum 10 year sentence because it’s considered one of the Georgia’s “7 Deadly Sins”.  I never remembered my children coming home from school studying such “sins”.  Before there is such harsh sentencing, we citizens should demand such “sins” or “laws” be taught to us, our children, teachers, and other educational institutions. How else are we to know? There is no magic repository listing ALL the laws of the land.  Even if there were, where would one begin given the vast number of them? Most of the time, we don’t know we’ve broken a law until the hand of “injustice” comes crushing down. I’m not advocating we let those who’ve broken the law get away with such things. However, there should be a just, fair, and equitable solution. Most importantly, we MUST get back to the platinum rule which supersedes the golden one and that’s Love as God loved, have mercy when it’s in your power to do otherwise, extend forgiveness daily. This is what justice looks like to me."

Debbie Wells, Reaching Beyond Bars


Justice: A Definition with Action

There are two questions that come to mind when I think about “justice.” The first is “What is justice?” and the second is “What does justice require of us?” As such a loaded word, it’s likely that each of our visions of justice is most prominently shaped by who we are, where we are from and the kind of work that we do in the world. So I’d like to offer a vision of justice that I adopted a few years ago when working as a gardener around the city of Atlanta.

It was 2011 and I was touring an urban farming professional development program in Stone Mountain, GA. As we strolled through the garden, a small and unassuming sign caught my eye. It read, “Pay attention to what works in the garden, because what works in the garden may one day work in the world.” Upon seeing these words, my next thought was, “Well, what works in the garden?” As a gardener, I learned that everything begins and ends with the soil. I learned that biodiversity is essential to the thriving of an ecosystem. I learned that there are seasons for everything, and that sometimes you have to prune really, really good things in order to make room for the very best. I learned that when trees release their leaves each fall, they are coating the ground so that the soil can replenish itself. I learned that plants, animals, mushrooms and more all work together for the thriving of the whole. They serve one another. And as a gardener, I had the distinct privilege of bearing witness to and participating the miraculous unfolding of thriving life.

When I think about justice, this is what it looks and feels like. It looks like a garden. It looks like diversity. It looks like thriving, beauty, abundance and joy. It’s a lofty vision. But it is also a worthy one. When I think about justice, I imagine the establishing of societies, systems, projects and businesses that contribute to the thriving of all, not just a few.

So, what does this kind of justice require of us? What does it take to get to this place? I propose to you that justice, the kind that is made of diversity and mutual thriving, demands at least four things:

  1. Self-giving. Reordering the world will take generosity from each of us. It will take generosity with our time, with our belief in one another and with our resources. No one can decide for you how much is the right amount to give, but I do know that true justice is costly to us all.

  2. Truth telling. Justice requires that we tell the truth. We have to tell the truth about who we are and about the stories, good and bad, that shape our individual and collective identity. In grappling with the truth honestly, we find common ground and we find the gaps that require more of our attention.

  3. Patience. This work takes time, mostly because change and true maturity take time. Have you ever seen a large and fruitful pecan tree grove? Or have you ever given thought to the number of years it takes for fruits trees to bear a harvest. In our fast-paced, convenience-addicted society, we lose the art of waiting for the things we long for the most. Justice is one of those things that we have to work for and wait for over a long period of time.

  4. Hope. Plywood People believes that better is possible. We believe that the future is good. We also believe that a good future won’t just happen, but it will come by way of our thoughtfulness and choices. Problem solving takes intentionality, and our actions towards a better future are outward displays of the hope that we carry inside.

So this is one vision for justice as well as some thoughts on what it takes to build a more just world. This week during #Plywords, we invite you to engage the various visions of justice that emerge from voices in our community. And when one of the visions compels you, ask yourself, “What would this require of me?” knowing that a good future is built when we give ourselves to that work.  


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