Offering Second Chances asks us to expand our circle of compassion

Bringing people home after they’ve committed harm doesn’t throw out public safety, advocates say

By: - March 28, 2023 4:55 am

“We can invest in hope and healing, and a belief in redemption for everybody, until there’s nobody excluded from our circle of compassion,” said Preston Shipp, senior policy counsel with the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

This story is part of a series on advocates’ and community members’ reactions to the Second Chance bill being signed into law. You can read the first part here, and the second part here.

Carissa McGee knows what it feels like to have the hope to regain freedom.

McGee, of Albuquerque, was sentenced to 21 years in prison and first went inside when she was 17.

Once she knew she had a chance to return home, she got excited about the chance to be present for family holidays, birthdays, graduations, and weddings.

“Now that there’s a light at the end of my tunnel, and I can think about being present, I can start thinking about what I’m gonna wear,” she said. “What am I gonna eat? How am I gonna feel? Maybe I actually get to be in the photos now.”

Being away from loved ones during the holidays is arguably the most difficult time of the year for incarcerated people, McGee said.

Abby Long has a good relationship with her son Seven Long, who was facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison for very serious crimes he was involved in when he was 14.

“We talk a lot, but it’s going to be weird for me to figure out who I am to him in this new world we’re going to be in when he is out,” she said.

Seven is an avid basketball player at the Youth Diagnostic and Development Center in Albuquerque. He tends to play either point guard or shooting guard. Abby likes to send him shoes.

Seven dreams of playing college basketball after he gets out.

“Every bit of time he has, he is playing basketball,” Abby Long said.

She is afraid he or his little brother will get hurt or killed by someone else, possibly in retaliation for what happened.

“There’s so many people who deserve that second chance,” said Preston Shipp, senior policy counsel with the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth.

New Mexico’s new Second Chance law is an opportunity to invest in some of our best values and some of our highest ideals, he said.

During an informal panel discussion in January at the Roundhouse, McGee read a quote from Albert Einstein about how a person’s experience of reality is itself a kind of prison that restricts us to our personal desires and affections to a few people nearest to us.

“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison, by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures, and the whole nature in its beauty,” Einstein wrote shortly before his death. “Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such attainment is in itself a part of liberation, and a foundation for inner security.”

Growing the parameters of our circle of compassion is not always easy when you’re talking about people who have committed violent crime, Shipp said.

“It doesn’t mean we stop caring about public safety,” he said. “Justice is not a zero-sum game.”

That circle can expand when you hear about what a person can become on the other end of 15 years inside, he said.

“We can invest in hope and healing, and a belief in redemption for everybody,” he said, “until there’s nobody excluded from our circle of compassion.”

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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.