President Bush: State of the Union - Excerpts, with Commentary and Responses

Dear Friends:

Last night (Tuesday, Jan 20, 2004) President Bush made this statement as part of his 'State of the Union' speech:

"In the past we have worked together to bring mentors to the children of prisoners, and provide treatment for the addicted, and help for the homeless. Tonight I ask you to consider another group of Americans in need of help. This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society. We know from long experience that if they can't find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit crime and return to prison. So tonight I propose a four-year, $300 million dollar Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups.

America is the land of the second chance -- and when the gates of the prison open -- the path ahead should lead to a better life."

If our President believes in 'second chances' - why didn't he propose parole or early release measures for the prisons he has in his direct charge? This is a good week to write and ask him that question and others.

If 600,000 released prisoners a year are having difficulty finding a path to a 'better life' - perhaps the President would review some laws that put people in prison, and the sentencing schemes that lock them up for decades, too. The problems prisoners face should not only be dealt with around re-entry -- that is late in the process.

Using testimony of an informant -- paid or not -- is not biblical. The bible teaches that accusations must have two or more witnesses. That doesn't mean that two or more people have 'part of the story' either. Christian Conservatives could be reminded of this at this time.

Share other ideas with us, and we'll post them here and on our e-mail list. If you would like to participate in our e-mail discussion list, e-mail, and he will sign you up.

For grantwriters and those who work in direct services, click here for the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [] [DOCID:fr21ja04-4] that details the program the president talked about.

Further Commentary

January 21, 2004 - Kalamazoo Gazette (MI)

Viewpoint: Saving marriage

by Art Hilgart

Marriage is a fine idea when two people want to solemnize and publish their loving intention to live with one another, if not forever, for a long time. And it is a fine idea whatever the genders of the couple. Those who argue that if homosexuals can marry, heterosexuals will stop doing so have slipped several logical gears.

There are, however, real threats to marriage as an institution, and they deserve attention from the public, the press, and politicians. The current minimum wage is approximately $10,000 per year for a full-time job, not enough to afford marriage and a family. Raising the hourly minimum to $10 would enable millions more couples to begin a life together. Those who oppose this implicitly argue that marriage should be a privilege of the middle and upper classes.

Another threat to marriage is the War on Drugs. Hundreds of thousands of young men are arrested for possession of recreational drugs, giving them a criminal record and making them unemployable and not marriage material.

The Gazette reports that the Kalamazoo County Jail admits twelve thousand people a year, an extraordinary number. Certainly murderers, rapists, and pedophiles should be removed from society, but how many of these are in Kalamazoo? A dozen or two per year? Bank robbers, burglars, and wife-beaters deserve arrest as well- another hundred or two at most. That leaves more than eleven thousand admissions. This is not just costly when local governments are strapped for money- the distribution of criminal records like confetti creates social problems, among them a serious reduction in the marriageable population.

As recently as the 1960's, illegitimacy was relatively rare. Parents were married. But that was when wages for the lowest quarter of the population were relatively higher, and it was before the War on Drugs, when arrest rates and prison populations were far lower. Those who let their ideologies run wild should beware of unintended consequences.

Those who wish to preserve marriage as an institution will not serve their goal by enacting denial of access to it by nontraditional couples. Demanding an end to the barriers faced by millions of traditional couples would be a constructive step in the right direction.

From: Gladys Eddy-Lee
Date: January 21, 2004
Subject: State of the Union Address: My Answer to the President

Dear Mr. President:

Thank you for an inspiring speech to Congress yesterday evening. It took courage on your part to open up a topic that may not be popular with everyone.

I am especially interested in your plan to help rehabilitate the large number of prison inmates being released back into society, the Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative. I have been a volunteer prison chaplain in the California state system for 17 years, and this kind of assistance is desperately needed.

We taxpayers are spending a fortune incarcerating non-violent offenders for long periods of time, sometimes decades. Frequently their committing offenses are drug trafficking. One fact often overlooked is that a large number of the drug traffickers are themselves addicts. Incarcerating them for most of their lives with little or no help overcoming their addiction does not prepare them for a successful life on the outside. In fact, the longer they are locked up, the greater their chances of failure when they are finally released.

As a nation, we appear hypocritical to other civilized countries when we criticize third world countries for harsh punishments that are out of proportion to the offenses committed, then do the same thing by locking up non-violent offenders for 20, 30 or even more years because of mandatory minimum sentencing. I am hopeful that the federal government will lead the states in revising the entire sentencing system so that punishments meted out are in proportion to the offenses committed.

Thank you for your consideration.

Gladys Eddy-Lee

Dear Nora: In response to your email I would like to share the letter (below) I received from the Justice Department after writing to President Bush asking him to support laws for change in the mandatory minimums. I felt this letter was rude because it basically told me to address my concerns to congress and not bother the President. Do they suppose I haven't been writing Congressional members? Anyway, you may republish this letter if you like. I would just ask that you delete my address. You may use my name.

Thank you, Twila Sims

Hello Friends:

Not to sound as if I am concluding this subject with my 2 cents. I just want to add something I feel is important.

Coming from the camp of those that 'love a prisoner' - I am able to study things, read and review a lot of information; so that we can manage the office and serve a volunteer base.

I think that conservatives - aside from the president - are giving our issue a hard look, and coming aboard. And while some would cringe at the thought of being put at the mercy of 'faith based' folks - if anyone has attempted to start much in a prison, as a volunteer - being 'faith based' has been preferred for a long time. So, there isn't much new here - just a new emphasis because the president is who he is, and has been putting a little money and words about.

Having conservatives look at the informant system, the way a 'conspiracy charge works' with a critical eye is good. Having them find common ground with our organization and goals - is good. Contact with prisoners, especially prisoners that have membership in reform organizations, spreads our mission and 'movement' exposure from the prisoners, to these 'faith based' leaders.

I think that we will see more and more conservatives joining the ranks of those who oppose the war on drugs. I think that we should seek ways to find common ground and work together.

Presidents come and go - people remain.

This is an excerpt about the prisoner reentry issues, with a lead in, so you can appreciate the writer's style. The entire article can read at:

This one is called, State of the Union 2004 Myth and Reality, by Rahul Mahajan. It was published yesterday, January 21, 2004


Bush said: So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and to get rid of steroids now.

Response: Finally. The truly important issues. Imagine the courage involved in taking such a controversial stand.

Bush said: This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society. We know from long experience that if they can't find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison. So tonight, I propose a four-year, $300 million Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups. America is the land of the second chance - and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.

Response: This is truly brilliant. I can't remember the last time a Democratic presidential candidate (except for Kucinich and Sharpton) actually talked about the crying need to rehabilitate ex-prisoners. At one stroke, Bush paints himself as far more liberal, and compassionate, than the Democratic mainstream. Just three little problems: First, he seems to want to use government money to put ex-prisoners at the mercy of "faith-based groups." I suppose that's one way to recruit for the Christian Coalition. Second, with the economy shedding jobs like there's no tomorrow, how exactly is he going to get work for ex-prisoners? Third, does anyone really believe this will happen? Does anyone remember the Freedom Corps, inaugurated with such stirring words in the 2002 SOU address?

I share this because there is a lot of skepticism, and cynicism, which as John Chase eloquently stated in an e-mail yesterday, "These days skepticism is necessary and cynicism is understandable."

We have the president talking about the prisoners, it is on West Wing, and it's been on 60 minutes, too. All in a month!

Most of this list comprises folks that have someone they love in prison, or a disdain for the war on drugs that has brought them to action not so directly, others are out of prison now. Some are political professionals and live in WA DC.

I come from the camp of people that love a prisoner. I remember in 1992 when Nightline did a show on Mandatory Minimums and I figured it was over - you know the war was over, all a person had to do was show somebody that video tape.

Back then, if we'd have had a January Sweep like this one - I'd have figured Gary would be getting out of prison soon.

Probably not. But it all adds up is the point. We need media stories, we need viable community groups every growing. We need people hounding leaders and everyone being vocal and learning how to do the work of activism more and more effectively. It is learning the patience of activism.

I'll share with you some differing views I got from that post yesterday, but leave the senders - a mystery.

This is just my humble opinion but I don't think we should attack Bush when he "says" he wants to do the right thing as small and probably untrue as it may be. Yes he most certainly is our enemy and yes ultimately his intentions are evil. But in the public eye this statement seems compassionate so to attack it may cause our credibility more harm than good.
There's a running joke in Washington bureaucracies that if Bush singles out your program for high praise, it's usually the kiss of death. Like the Veterans Administration or the Global AIDS initiative, Bush will sing your praises for the cheap media hit and a week later, when no one is looking, gut your budget. That way, he gets all of the credit and without having to cut into his tax cuts or war budget. One can only hope he praises John Walters more often.
Nora, you are right on about the hypocritical proposal to help people getting out of prison, when it's the government's dreadful policy that put them in there to begin with. Further, the $23 million the President sanctimoniously proposed in the State of the Union address for student drug testing is a fraudulent waste of money, and he must know it -- I'm attaching a copy of the story on the Monitoring the Future study (April, 2003) that said drug testing in schools is a waste of money in the effort to reduce student drug use. As I imagine you know, this is the main study the government relies on to measure adolescent drug use!

Thanks everybody - hang in there - never, ever give up and keep the ground we take along the way.

Over and out - and thank you again friends.

In Struggle, Nora

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