Hope and Thanksgiving for a Mother in Jail

As charges were gradually dropped, it became clear that she would ultimately be released without a trial. In February 2010, video from the prison shows that a male guard used physical force against her, throwing her to the ground and banging her head against a wall until she lost consciousness. She was charged in this incident with assaulting the guard, and was not allowed contact with outside visitors until her wounds had healed. The new charge, misdemeanor assault, was to be a pretext for re-incarcerating her when she was released on the invalid sexual-abuse charges.

Her release came at the end of June 2010, when all the sexual-abuse charges were dropped. Shortly after the release, a fellow inmate called her on the phone to warn her that the prison authorities were talking openly about her being returned to them on the assault charge, and about drugging her and "dealing with her."

Valerie fled to New York and the protection of an Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey. In another very unusual turn of events, U.S. Marshals were detailed to locate her for Maryland because of the misdemeanor assault charge. She is currently being held in jail in Rockland County, New York, awaiting a judge's decision on extradition to the Maryland prison where she endured 13 months of ill treatment. A group of her supporters held a demonstration for her outside the courthouse on November 10.

What are we to make of such facts? This case, and others like it, lay bare the raw cruelty and amoral desperation with which humans will act when we pursue something without compunction or conscience. The Tonya Craft case is another in which flimsy charges were leveled against a mother during a family break-up—and in her case, one of the many irregularities was that the judge hearing it had formerly been her ex-husband's divorce attorney. (This kind of thing happens to fathers too, of course.)

The reversion to a primitive refrain of anti-Jewish prejudice in Valerie Carlton's case is particularly ugly and disquieting. In light of that history, I found it poignant to come across a request for prayer, apparently posted by Valerie herself in April 2011, at a Christian pastor's online prayer website. Valerie's determination to hold onto her faith argues a belief that God does offer relief and succor to His people. And in spite of her mistreatment at the hands of a professed Christian husband, she seems to have been willing to reach out to Christians and ask for their prayers.

The law comes off as corrupt and manipulable in this drama, but it rarely acquits itself well when the issue is the human passions inherent in the break-up of a family. Sexual-abuse charges cannot be ignored by the authorities, but neither can the processes of law replace compassion, honesty, patience, or love in our relations with each other. As in another case I wrote about several months ago—that of the father who set himself ablaze in despair over the family-law system—the law, merely by performing as it is intended to, often grinds us down and discourages us from dealing mercifully with one another. In the worst cases, it can give us cover for a heartless ferocity.

God is always way ahead of us in these matters. Jesus spoke a truth of crystalline clarity when he said in Matthew 19:8: "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning." Law is, in essence, a defensive measure made necessary by our hard-heartedness.

And it must be administered by flawed humans. But for this, too, God has made provision. It is always a second-best outcome to fall into the hands of the justice system, but God does better than merely enable us to act with integrity and honesty within that system: He gives wisdom to our rulers and judges, if we ask for His protection in this matter. It is instructive to recall that the best-known instance of the wisdom of Solomon involved the pitched battle between two women for custody of a child (1 Kgs. 3:16-28). God, who has always known our hearts, chose this homely incident to exemplify for all the ages His gift of wisdom to a judge.

Valerie Carlton has certainly made her own mistakes in life, but God doesn't promise justice only to the guiltless. We can be sure He cares deeply about truth and justice for Valerie, as He does about the life of her daughter. This year's Thanksgiving holiday will probably be another difficult one for Valerie. But more and more of us can add her, and the judges appointed over her, to our prayers. We have the assurance that God will hear, and for Valerie's sake, and ours, we can be thankful.

11/21/2011 5:00:00 AM
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  • J. E. Dyer
    About J. E. Dyer
    J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer and evangelical Christian. She retired in 2004 and blogs from the Inland Empire of southern California. She writes for Commentary's CONTENTIONS blog, Hot Air's Green Room, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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