Saturday, March 14, 2009

Faith Works 3-14-09
Jeff Gill

Bernie Madoff Is Set Free

So Bernie Madoff, swindler, Ponzi scheme financier, charity-robbing con man, has gone off to jail. Overdue, I’m sure, and no reason to weep for him, while there are many who grieve the loss of dreams and plans for the future because of his lies. For them, we may shed a tear.

It won't be Sing Sing that Madoff will check into, but I think Martha Stewart can assure you that the image of "country club corrections" is a bit overdone -- non-violent offenders are put in less restrictive environments, with health and recreation options that actually save the taxpayer money over the long run (inmate health care is expensive, and not because it’s so high quality), and those offerings also help maintain order by giving the staff privileges that they can withhold. I'm not bothered by some tennis courts and a few TVs with limited channel selection. Those inmates don't lose track for a moment that they're in jail.

But as for being set free -- If I can read body language at all, Bernie Madoff is utterly, utterly relieved to be done with the game, and I suspect actually relieved, if a bit apprehensive, about going to jail. It’s not a point made in sympathy, just a practical point of psychology: he’s been imagining this day for decades, apparently. He never imagined it would even last this long, and it’s done, and he’s ready to go. The fascinating story, and I look forward to Michael Lewis (I hope, I hope) writing it, will be about how it began. How did the first fateful choice to not invest the investment deposits get made?

When did Madoff first realize the how and in what way he could do this iteration of the Ponzi scheme, and at what point did he realize, probably not long after that, that he could go no way other than forward . . . or throw himself into jail by a full and immediate unprompted confession in media res (which never happens) . . . so he continued, and probably marveled over and over that it kept on going, beyond his wildest fears, let alone hopes, which he probably abandoned years ago.

Bernie Madoff, like anyone trapped in a lie of their own making that keep on growing (read or watch "A Simple Plan"), is really and truly imprisoned in a horrible place -- no matter how reprehensible they are and how deserving we may think they are of our contempt. The fact is -- Bernie Madoff has a chance at freedom now. He will have to figure out how to live his life in that newfound freedom while in jail, to be sure, but I really do think that he has a chance to figure out what freedom is once he's locked up, because he can tell the truth.

The real jail, the real incarceration, is a lie. Lies chain us and bind us and weary our body and soul. And the only freedom is truth, no matter where telling that truth places us physically. So many people try to trade a little of their freedom for the quick convenience of an easy lie, and find that it's almost impossible to give away a little of your freedom.

A closing change of subject: may I suggest to pastors and congregational leaders that there’s a meeting on Monday morning, March 16, that you might want to consider. It will be down at Opportunity Links on East Main (next to Miller’s Essenplatz), hosted by Licking County Job and Family Services, the Community Mental Health & Recovery Board, and the county Board of Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities.

At 7:30 am (yep, am) on Monday, a community forum has been assembled to discuss the cuts already impacting social services in this county, and ones that are coming. Some, maybe much of the fallout from where the aforementioned agencies are having to cut staff, cut outlays, and cut grants to other agencies they work with in Licking County, will mean both different stories heard at the doors of our county faith communties, and a different set of requests and needs showing up on those doorsteps as well.

All are invited, and churches in particular I think would do well to participate. I know I’ll be there!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story of freedom at

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