One day, as I moved the beds from our Quaker shelter, for those who have no place to sleep in this cold city, I saw bags stacked with the sheets which were to be used for these beds. My heart broke and I could not touch them. On them was the stain of slavery, the brutality of rape, the chains, the cold hearted men with cold steal guns ... on them was printed their source, they were maintained by my sisters and brothers in the slavery of prison. Sometimes hearts need to be broken, and I am humbled that I have no words to break the hearts of Friends who can touch these sheets, as though it was no burden.
My Grandmother was named Eva. Many of her generation where named Eva. Maybe it was her name which led her to a life of bonnet and badge. She was a Sally Ann. Her generation's parents had their hearts broken by a book, today it seems hard to believe that Uncle Tom's Cabin could break hearts, souls weep for little Eva. However, those words broke hearts and burdened souls, and helped to break chains, melt iron shackles and iron hearts.
Slavery was the way things were, like war, something we could not get past, though all knew it was so wrong, obscene, a stain on the soul of each of us. And, this stain spread beyond the cotton and tobacco and rice plantations. Slavery lessened all of us, made us less that which we should have been.
And so it is with slavery today. We know the schools are unequal, the jobs unfairly doled out, the prisons growing like crops of tobacco, and now run for profit. Prison labor, labor at the point of a gun and chained down is now part of the American system in every state. Prison instead of school, prison instead of equal opportunity, prison with courts as a middle passage. For some, there is no manumission, but slavery for life, for three felonies, passing bad checks has placed a mother who could not feed her children in slavery for life. A teenager who is entrapped into buying enough cocaine to be jailed for life, has the collar of slavery around his neck for life. One out of every one hundred and twenty-five Americans are in these chains, and that number is born in remarkably more horrific numbers by those who are not of the complexion and class of most Friends.
So, at meeting for business, when voices ask, we must look into conditions in prison before we reject these sheets as products of slavery, when some say, it depends on how one "feels about punishment"... I am left wondering how to break hearts, that someday we might break chains.