In Los Angeles, six thousands of LA County prisoners are housed in Pitchess Detention Center, which is 50 miles from the inner city neighborhoods where most of the prisoners there live. Using public transportation, which is what most friends and family members must use to reach Pitchess, the journey can take up to five hours to visit an inmate for 30 minutes, through a glass window, with no physical contact. The closest bus stop is a mile away from the jail, and at the bottom of a steep hill.
For five years, a woman named Betty Peters, now 76, has picked up visitors at that bus stop and driven them to the prison. She also waits for the women (mostly) to finish their visits, and drives them back to the bus stop. The grateful visitors know her as “Mama Betty.”
This is an act of pure compassion and kindness, and not without its risks. If a visitor tries to smuggle in contraband, drugs or a weapon,Betty could be prosecuted as an accomplice. Nor does she know the character of those whom she ferries from the jail to the bus and back. Might she be at risk of harm herself? I would assume so. Those with criminals as friends and associates are more likely to be criminals themselves.
I hope this story has a happy ending, because every time kindness like this is returned with cruelty and exploitation, the number of Mama Bettys among us is diminished, and our society becomes a little more meaner, more callous, and less ethical.
Ethics Alarms salutes Betty Peters as an Ethics Hero…and worries.
You can hear a podcast about Mama Betty here.