Are you a recycler? Do you spend any time separating your refuse into different bins in order to spare the world from expending unnecessary resources? It seems that most of society is beginning to understand the importance of being more "green." The fact is that if we only consume and never find additional uses for the materials, then the supply will one day become exhausted. We can't imagine living without paper products, or drinking water, or bottles and cans to hold our beverages.
Economics has taught us that society's choice of whether and how much to recycle depends basically on monetary factors. Recycling becomes economically attractive when the cost of reprocessing waste or recycled material is less than the cost of processing new raw materials.
With that being said, let me suggest to you that we need to begin recycling human life – the greatest material and resource known to man. Perhaps we don't consider this to be a valid recycling project since new humans are being born every minute of every day. Maybe we feel like it's not worth the energy and trouble it would take to pick through the human refuse to see if any vitality and good is left.
Right now Tennessee has over 21,000 humans in large refuse centers – prisons. They are hoping and praying that they will be recycled. Will someone see the value that they still have for society? Will someone take time to separate them from the unusable waste that surrounds them? In order to do that it requires you to look at them, not as a statistic like I just mentioned, but as a person - a person that has a pulse, life, worth and sustainability.
So look at me! Look into my eyes so you can see that I am flesh and bones, not a statistic, not a product of the justice system, but a human being. After you see me and I see you, we no longer can pretend that we don't exist. Once this is realized, we can move forward in ways that benefit us both. Programs that bring outside people to our inside world behind these fences are a great avenue to connect humans to humans, eyes to eyes.
We are visual creatures. When we can visualize something or hold it living in our mind, we can make it a reality. So when people look into each other's eyes, when they experience the living presence of another person, they become real beings that take up this world's space. We only have so much space in our world for garbage, so we must begin to recycle, even human beings. So while Tennessee has these 21,000 pieces of recyclable products, what is being done to refine the material? How are citizens' tax dollars being spent to make these rough materials into productive, useful and viable members of the world?
In 2011, Tennessee stated that it recycled over 14,000 inmates. That is, while these people had been housed for a time in Tennessee's recycling centers, they had since been released back into the community to serve the world once again. However, Tennessee also admits that almost half of these 14,000 return to prison, apparently somehow defective in their transformation. By that logic, what if we sent 14,000 cans to the recycling center, and half of them returned with holes in them, not being able to hold the liquid they were supposed to contain? Would that be an acceptable return on our investment? Most logical people would likely be dissatisfied with the flawed process.
Consider author Peter Rollin's explanation of the perpetuation of a problem in his book Insurrection. He suggests, "Donating money to the poor without asking why the poor exist in the first place, for instance, allows us to alleviate our guilt without fundamentally challenging the system that perpetuates poverty. As the Brazilian archbishop Dom Helder Camara once said, 'When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.'"
Until you see the landfills polluted with unwanted trash, it's impossible to get the full effect of the waste we produce. That is why we must get in there and get our hands dirty, scouring the landfills for items that can be brought back to life and still have value. Programs that foster outsiders and insiders coming together to help change the prison system, causing it to recognize the potential of the souls trapped inside the razor wire, are essential for any real change that we may hope for.
It is true that insiders' lives are forever changed when outsiders enter our world and make a connection. However, it is also true that the outsiders' lives are changed as well. When you are able to embrace the presence of all of humanity, then you must include those that may have stumbled, fell from society's graces, and yet have living blood running through their veins. And when you are able to do that you have embraced God.
Therefore I suggest to you that until we look at the system and how we are giving up on our most precious materials – human lives – then people will continue to be taken to recycling centers across the nation and left there to sit for years or decades, without being converted into new and precious beings.
So look at me face-to-face and tell me that I am not worth your thoughts, your time, and your prayers. Until then, you are only using your tax dollars to cover up your own guilt, your own shame, or your own disregard for human life and your ability to build recycling plants that do not work.