Justice, Holiness, & Cries from Prisoners Baking in Texas

We cited Ernest Becker in yesterday’s DM who alerts us to our capacity, thanks to science and to “authentic religion” (I call that spirituality) to tell the truth about “large scale social lies” that interfere with humanity’s capacity for holiness.

100-year-old woman speaks out against banning books. MSNBC

One “large scale social lie” is racism and a refusal to allow children in schools to study the history of slavery because it might render some people “uncomfortable.”  Another is pseudo-religion and pseudo-Christianity.  Another is fascism masquerading as a bonafide political party. 

Another is injustice masquerading as fairness.  Another is pseudo jurisprudence resulting in killing of (mostly poor) women masquerading as “right to life”.  Another is outlawing the teaching of diversity regarding sexuality, gender, gay and lesbian and trans awareness in schools.

One “large scale social lie” is denial of climate change which seems to be baked into Texan politics even as heat waves are breaking records all over the state.  Surely this translates into “cruel and inhuman punishment” in Texan prisons at this time.  Kudos to Lawrence O’Donnell for exposing the story on “The Last Word” program on MSNBC Tuesday night this week.

Texas inmates ‘being cooked alive’ with no air conditioning. KXAN

The Texas Tribune informs us that the Texas legislature had a surplus of $32.7 billion to spend on the state’s next two-year budget but lawmakers decided “not to put a penny directly toward cooling dangerous hot prisons.”  The House passed a law to put $500 million into cooling prisons that was rejected by the senate. 

The current triple digit temperatures in Texas have resulted in “baking prisoners to death,” severe staff shortages and costing taxpayers millions of dollars in wrongful death and civil rights lawsuits.  More than two-thirds of Texas’ 100 prisons don’t have air condition in most living areas.*

Jesus teaching at the shore. Painting by James Tissot. (“I was in prison and you visited me.”) Wikimedia Commons.

Half a billion dollars to solve the problem when one has a 32.7 billion dollar surplus does not seem like an exorbitant fix. 

Isn’t Texas a state where all kinds of politicians and many citizens claim loudly to be Christians of some kind?  Didn’t Jesus say something about treating prisoners and others as one would like to be treated?  What happened to that chapter in religion?

If justice is a sign of holiness in our day, injustice is its opposite.  It follows that Texas is not only a very hot state these days but a very unjust and unholy and cruel state to live in.  Time to rise up and wake up? 


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society (2016 edition), pp, xlf.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner image: Fierce Sun. Photo by Photoraymond on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Meditate on being in prison when it is 115 degrees day after day. What does it teach you?

Recommended Reading

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

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7 thoughts on “Justice, Holiness, & Cries from Prisoners Baking in Texas”

  1. Avatar

    Yes, Matthew, “institutional violence”/torture also exists in our Texas — legislature, ‘Christians’, and prisons!!! There is so much hypocrisy, cruelty, and ignorance toward our fellow human beings in Texas prisons, mainly by our Republican governor and Republican legislators.
    The microcosm of injustice, cruelty, and ignorance in our Texas prisons by the legislature, is reflective of the macrocosm of “institutional violence”/social injustice/violence/racism/human suffering caused by toxic, destructive, misogyny, racism of all types, ignorance, spiritually unbalanced beliefs/values/actions of PATRIARCHY in all our historical and ongoing societies and institutions, including religions.
    I agree that true and genuine spirituality must include Compassion and Social Justice for All our Sacred fellow human beings/our sisters and brothers from our Loving Mother~Father co-Creator~Source Present within and among Us in Loving Diverse Oneness….

  2. Avatar

    Thank you for highlighting this particular cruelty. It seems to me like some kind of strange addiction that people fall into: The torturing of others under their control. The suffering inflicted on the inmates in that heat is real and unrelenting. Sleep must be nearly impossible. Oppressive misery. An sustained assault on body and mind. The more you confine anybody, animal or person, the more responsible you are for their well-being.

  3. Avatar

    The impacts of this sort of self-righteous cruelty- the willingness to make prisoners suffer for their sins, in this brutal way -is heartbreaking to me. All the more so as I imagine asking my Trumpian Catholic siblings about their view on this and “hearing” them justify it. In the same ways they’d justify all the decisions the “Supreme Court” has just stripped our nation of – affirmative action, educational equity, etc. (and now the Florida gov’t has opened their run laws to spur more violence). Thank God I have a strong enough Creation Spirituality and practice! I’m willing to see these things, feel and honor my pain for our World and all our Kin. I am incredibly grateful to Joanna Macy’s “Spiral of the Work That Reconnects” which is a part of my practice: when faced with adversity, pay attention to something in the present moment to be GRATEFUL for, HONOR your pain for the world, SEE with new/ancient eyes and then GO FORTH with the one thing necessary. I go forth now, able to hold my broken heart and be willing to embrace the suffering without shaming or blaming my siblings.

  4. Avatar

    Dear Father Mathew,
    It is up to us to make the world aware of the lobsideness thinking of some people. As a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, my husband is reproached by parishioners and applauded by others. He speaks out against police violence against a black man shot through his door at his home. After his homily the newspaper reported that the police were justified. I help him with his homilies by injecting your thoughts or Richard Rohr’s words. We have read many books to understand and support the Holy Spirit and all of the angels. My husband’s homily will be about relationships this Sunday. Please keep us in your prayers.

  5. Avatar

    Of course, we grieve with and feel for our brothers and sisters in prison under such hellish conditions. This is nothing new and has been going on in many places. Prior to the 45th President, a sheriff in a western state was keeping prisoners outdoors in unbearable heat, and was brought to account for it. 45 pardoned this man, along with a host of other criminals. Florida has kept its death row prisoners in these conditions and probably other prisoners as well. The worst part, to me, is that over and over these evil practices are exposed without enough people being stirred to compassion and loving action. There are religious institutions that have prison ministries and do everything they can for individuals. But too many people will simply say that they broke the law and deserve what they get and still call themselves Christians or Jews or Muslims, etc. What can we do? Pray, meditate, contemplate, and then support any prison ministry or project in your community, write to or call legislators, write letters to the editor of your local paper, etc., etc. None of this will directly change the institutional violence, but you can plant some seeds. There are many people doing these things quietly, and I celebrate and thank all who are trying.

  6. Avatar

    The best way to understand the other is to spend a day or a week in ‘their shoes’. This should be mandatory for every manager and leader on an annual basis. Once I gave a large regional office receptionist the day off as a reward for community building and I sat in her chair for the day. It was somewhat overwhelming with the phone ringing, couriers coming and going, customers calling for directions, staff coming in and out shouting out where they could be found, looking up ‘paper based phone directories’ when electronic versions existed. It was an extremely hectic way to spend the day, but most fruitful at the same time. I was able to identify where gaps in service were occurring, where system enhance productivity was not being used. The receptionist’s life became my life that day. And in a self-serving fashion and in regard to all stakeholders, it did not take much more than that to get welcomed changes put into place.

    Walk in another’s shoes for at least a day. — BB.

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