Grandpa’s Prisons

My father called me the other day, with all the excitement of a boy who had bagged his first rabbit. He informed me that he had started investing for his grandchildren, something “that’s going to reap huge dividends, a guaranteed thing.” Transparency is not one of his virtues, so it took a few tries for him to spill the beans.

The “guaranteed thing” happened to be investing in…prisons. My father was investing for his grandchildren in private prisons in Texas and Louisiana (where else?). Guaranteed twenty percent return for ten years.

It got my mind going. Well, dad, are these maximum security prisons? Will they have men or women on death row? Can the girls come and inspect them? Will they have a cell block named after them? “Julia’s Block.” “Kathryn’s Death Row.” I wondered if this is what is meant by the prophet’s declaration that justice and mercy will one day embrace.

These things I kept to myself. I know it could have been worse; he could have invested in prosthetics for children injured by land mines. He could have invested in DDT or Agent Orange. He could have invested in Halliburton.

I thought about prisoners hacking into the system that would give them a list of shareholders. I imagined threatening letters or visits to our house by parolees. All of them sex offenders and child molesters.

“Gee, dad, that’s…well, interesting, and generous. Thanks for thinking of the girls.” No longer was I thinking of my daughters’ college educations, but what it might cost me to get them to a plastic surgeon to disguise their looks; or how much of a hassle it would be to change their identity.

And it got me to thinking about a cogent world-view, and the impulse for generativity, and how the two might somehow come together. I thought about the urge to grant a blessing to the newest generation, those we know and love; and how such a blessing can imply great suffering for others, those we do not know or love. The winners and the losers. The remembered and the forgotten.

With the best of intentions, my father is betting on chaos, lawlessness, and human tragedy. And it seems a sure enough bet. His hope for my daughters, tied to the hopelessness of the world around us. It makes me wonder what I am betting on, and investing in.

As a pastor, it makes me wonder what our nation is betting on, all in an attempt to secure blessing for our children. All with the best of intentions.

Thom Fiet is pastor of the Reformed Dutch Church of Hyde Park in upstate New York.