Cardinal Cupich joins panel to discuss criminal justice reform

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Cardinal Cupich joined the panel at Reconciling Justice: A Community Conversation on Criminal Justice Reform on Feb. 21, 2024 at the Athenaeum Theater. The event was sponsored by the Lumen Christi Institute and other organizations to examine criminal justice reform. The invite-only event included judges, lawyers, social workers, clergy and others directly impacted by the criminal justice system. (Travis Haughton/LumenChristi Institute)

Participants in a criminal justice roundtable sponsored by the Catholic Criminal Justice Reform Network Feb. 21 advocated for people enmeshed in the criminal justice system to be recognized as members of the human family, no matter what they have done.

“If one member of our family killed another member of our family, what would our family do? How would we respond?” Cardinal Cupich asked at “Reconciling Justice: A Community Conversation on Criminal Justice Reform,” after listening to other panelists tell their stories. “How do we see ourselves as brothers and sisters to each other?”

Those panelists included Eric Anderson and Joseph Mapp, both of whom received lengthy prison sentences as teenagers; Jeanne Bishop, a public defender whose sister and brother-in-law, who were expecting their first child, were killed in their home in Winnetka; Lisa Daniels, a restorative justice advocate whose son was killed in Park Forest in 2012; Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, and Judge Erica Reddick, presiding judge of the Cook County Circuit Court’s Criminal Division.

“The family experience is so much at the heart of everything that has been expressed,” Cardinal Cupich said.

That included the testimony of Joseph Mapp, who served 27 years of a 55-year prison sentence and now works as program manager of Community Partners for Peace and director of reentry with the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation.

Mapp talked about the isolation of life in prison, and the day his family was banned from visiting him for the rest of his sentence. His brother was wearing a sleeveless shirt and was   stopped from visiting that day. When his mother protested, the whole family was banned.

Eric Anderson was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole when he was 15 years old. Asked how he understood that as a teenager, he said that for the first few years, he was too overwhelmed with surviving each day to think about the future.

But after several years, when he was settled into an adult prison and had the capacity to think about his situation, he was faced with being in his early 20s, healthy, with the possibility of living another 60 or even 70 years within the same walls.

“Sometimes miracles happen,” he said. Anderson was resentenced to 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 Miller vs. Alabama ruling held that it is unconstitutional for mandatory sentences of life without parole to be imposed on juveniles, and released after 33 years.

When he learned about his resentencing, Anderson said, “What I really thought is, here’s a second chance. … One of the most hurtful things about being in prison was the helplessness to repair the harm that I’d done.”

Bishop spoke of the way she felt when the teenager who had killed her sister and her family was sentenced. She believed she’d forgiven the offender, but when her mother said that they would never see him again, her initial thought was, “Good.”

Years later, she came to terms with the idea that for forgiveness to be genuine, it must be communicated to the person who did harm. She wrote to the young man in prison, and he wrote back a heartfelt apology. She still visits him, she said, and they often talk about her sister, Nancy.

Lisa Daniels said that she felt that her son, Darren Easterling, was dehumanized after he was killed in a robbery, set up to look like a drug deal. A newspaper headline mentioned that he had felony drug convictions, but did not mention his name until the second paragraph. Police from Park Forest, where he was killed, or Chicago, where she lived, did not contact her to let her know her son had died; she learned the news from a friend who called her nine hours later. Video of the crime scene, with her son’s body lying under a sheet, was later posted to YouTube.

“Not one of them took a moment to decide that this young man had people who loved him,” Daniels said. “He was completely judged by the single worst decision he had made in his life. … He was a father. He was a son. He was a brother. He has people who miss him today.”

Her son is now the namesake of the Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Practices, which Daniels founded.

Kolbe House executive director Mark McCombs, who moderated the discussion, asked Dart to speak from his heart instead of offering policy proposals.

“In the criminal justice world, whether it’s on the law enforcement side or the corrections side, it has to be infused with humanity,” Dart said. “If we stop doing that, tragedies will occur.”

After the panel discussion, about 200 participants held similar discussions at their own tables. Tables were assigned to allow for a variety of experiences among the participants in each discussion.

The event was cosponsored by the Lumen Christi Institute, Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, the Hinda Institute, Kolbe House Jail Ministry of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Athenaeum Center, Notre Dame Law School, the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago, the Loyola University of Chicago School of Law, and the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage.

Cardinal Cupich celebrated Mass at St. Alphonsus Church before the roundtable, and noted in his homily how well the first reading from the Book of Jonah, about the repentance of Nineveh, fit the theme of the evening.

Old Testament prophets such as Jonah, he said, knew that the sin of great cities like Nineveh was “a matter not of theft or lust or the denial of God, but of the brutality that tears apart society by those in power, people who use their status or their wealth to prey upon those who have none,” he said

The message of the Book of Jonah, though, is that people can change. In the case of Jonah and the Ninevites, everyone — Jonah, the king, the wealthy and the poor — had to change, to heal and be restored.

In the same way, Cardinal Cupich said, people cannot say that only those incarcerated must change to heal society.

“We need to be engaging all of society in bringing about a solution,” he said.


  • restorative justice

Related Articles