Against Solitary Confinement: Jonah's Redemption and Our Need for Mercy
8 Pages Posted: 23 May 2015 Last revised: 29 May 2015
Date Written: May 19, 2015
This is an exercise in biblical interpretation undertaken by someone more professionally accustomed to constitutional interpretation, for the "People of the Book" symposium on Judaism and legal scholarship. In it, I examine the Book of Jonah for insight into the modern practice of solitary confinement. After all, Jonah, imprisoned inside the whale for three nights and three days, is perhaps the most famous solitary prisoner of all time. Could the Book of Jonah have anything to say about the best response to current demands by prisoners and others to reform solitary confinement? At first blush it might seem that Jonah’s (short) stay in solitary inside the whale was pretty good for him. But on careful analysis, even Jonah didn't find redemption in solitary confinement. Rather, Jonah’s redemption occurs later, when God engages Jonah’s humanity to explain to him the ineffable value of mercy, and when Jonah understands that just like a child who doesn't know right from left, good from evil — just like all of us, including our prisoners — he, too, depends on mercy.
Keywords: bible, solitary confinement, prison
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