Saturday, October 1, 2016

I'd like you to write a short letter

Dear CCCUCC folks,

Hopefully you've met Rev. Janet Weiblen who often attends CCCUCC.  Janet is a retired UCC minister who has volunteered in prisons for almost 25 years.  Up until this summer, Janet has volunteered for ten years with 
Reaching Out From Within, which "supports prison rehabilitation programs for inmates who want to make lasting changes in their behavior so they can become a role model for non-violence, while still in a penitentiary, and also be contributing members of society when they return to society."  Despite her long track record of giving her time to help those whom society really does consider--in Jesus' words--"the least of these," Janet was terminated by ROFW.

Controversy began when Janet wrote an eloquent opinion piece for the Kansas City Star's "As I See It" series.  In it, she laments the fact that government budget cuts often hurt prisoners the worst, because the general public does not care what happens to people in prison.  Unlike bad roads or crowded schools, the effects of budget cuts on prisoners is only seen by those in the prison system or those working or volunteering in it.  She points out in a common sense manner the insanity of expecting prisoners to reenter society as productive citizens after educational and developmental programs for them have been cut.  

In the brief biographical sketch at the end of the opinion piece, Janet's credentials were given, including her working with Reaching Out From Within.  Prior to publication, Janet did not know ROFW would be identified in the piece.  It was this column and its identification with ROFW that led to Janet's termination, despite the ROFW board saying otherwise.

Janet had been recruited to write her column by a group wanting to raise awareness of the effects of the Kansas legislature's budget cuts.  As retired journalist Steve Nicely wrote in his own KC Star "As I See It" column, hardly anyone would speak up publicly on the effects of budget cuts.  "Laid off maintenance workers, discounted teachers, food pantry volunteers, mental hospital staffers" and others would not speak on record in the media out of fear of retribution.  Either they might lose their jobs or their programs might lose funding.  Such is the political climate in Kansas these days.  Yet, Janet spoke up and she paid a price for it.  Sadly so did the prisoners who benefit from Janet's work with them.

Janet's piece was published in June and she was on the agenda of the ROFW board in July.  Despite having no criticisms of her ten years of service with ROFW, board members at the July meeting accused her of violating program guidelines and rules; yet Janet had never been given the list of guildelines in question.  When she asked for them, despite promises to do so, none were given to her.  Criticisms were levelad at her leading of ROFW sessions on various occassions yet none of those criticisms had been shared with Janet prior to her writing a column criticizing state budget cuts of prison programs in which ROFW was identified.

It doesn't take a particularly strong olfactory sense to smell something fishy.  Janet is a valued volunteer prior to writing the column and persona non grata after writing it.  I think it is obvious what happened.  Steve Nicely states it well: "The organization depends on the approval of the Kansas Department of Corrections for access to prisoners in every DOC facility in the state.  When one of the group's well-known volunteers publicly criticizes the state department that enables the organization's existence, that naturally catches the attention of the board."  In other words, Janet became a liability despite her ten years of service.   

I have no idea if it will make a difference, but I do not want to sit quietly while a good person, who simply desires to help those whom our culture despises, gets stepped on.  I'm writing two short letters in support of Janet and I want you to write your own.  One letter goes to the editor of the KC Star and the other goes to the chairperson of the ROFW board.  Here are mine; feel free to make use of them in your letter writing.

Dear Editor,

I write in support of Rev. Janet Weiblen who was terminated by Reaching Out From Within, a rehabilitation program, after 10 years of volunteer service helping prisoners in Kansas prisons.  As Steve Nicely demonstrates in his September 6 "As I See It" column, Rev. Weiblen was terminated because the ROFW board feared retribution from the Brownback administration and Kansas Department of Corrections.  Once Rev. Weiblen dared to publicly write about the effects of state budget cuts on prisoners in the KC Star on June 5, her fate was sealed in the eyes of the board.  Such is the toxic political climate in Kansas these days.  I know Rev. Weiblen and her years of service to prisoners--people whom our society considers--in Jesus' words--"the least of these."  Her dedicated service helping men reenter society and reduce recidivism should be rewarded not punished.  Shame on the ROFW board for punishing a dedicated volunteer for advocating on behalf of the population ROFW was created to serve.  May we learn from Rev. Weiblen's example and work to change our overcrowded and underfunded prison system.  It's insane to believe prisoners can successfully reenter society when that society has taken away all means of rehabilitation.

Rev. Chase Peeples


Dear ROFW Board,

I write in support of Rev. Janet Weiblen who was terminated by Reaching Out From Within, after 10 years of volunteer service helping prisoners in Kansas prisons.  As Steve Nicely demonstrates in his September 6 "As I See It" column, Rev. Weiblen was terminated because the ROFW board feared retribution from the Brownback administration and Kansas Department of Corrections.  Once Rev. Weiblin dared to publicly write about the effects of state budget cuts on prisoners in the KC Star on June 5, I believe her fate was sealed in the eyes of your board.  

I know Rev. Weiblen and her years of service to prisoners--people whom our society considers--in Jesus' words--"the least of these."  Her dedicated service helping men reenter society and reduce recidivism should be rewarded not punished.  Shame on the ROFW board for punishing a dedicated volunteer for advocating on behalf of the population ROFW was created to serve.  

Previously I have had a positive impression of your organization and it's work, but now after your treatment of Rev. Weiblen, both I and other members of the community no longer hold such a positive view.

Sincerely,

Rev. Chase Peeples
You can write your own Letter to the Editor by clicking here.  I'm reluctant to publish the contact information for the ROFW board chairperson, so e-mail your letter to me at my e-mail address: chase@cccucc.com and I will get it to them.

Oh, and next time you see Janet, give her a pat on the back for her courage speaking out on behalf of prisoners and for her years of service to them.

Grace and Peace,

Chase

No comments: