By Jay F. Hein
A trip on the President’s helicopter, Marine One, was surely an unusual place to see the streams of justice, truth and grace come together. It would be more likely that raw power would be on display as we lifted off from the South Lawn and escalated toward the Washington Monument. But as we arced north to Baltimore, we left behind any pomp and circumstance left over from the previous evening’s State of the Union address and traded it for a trip to the gritty neighborhood where HBO’s gangs-and-drugs drama, The Wire, was filmed.
Our landing zone in Baltimore was Fort McHenry, the site of Britain’s infamous naval assault that in 1814 filled the night’s sky with bomb bursts leaving no one in doubt that the Union Jack would be flying over the fort by the next day. Washington lawyer Francis Scott Key was watching the horrid scene play out from the deck of a British ship where he was negotiating the release of an American prisoner being held on board. Helpless, Key could only watch the explosions and fear the worst. His poem, which eventually became our national anthem, flowed from his pen to paper when he saw a tattered American flag still flying proudly in the dawn’s early light.
President Bush greets a crowd at the White House upon returning from a Baltimore prisoner reentry program with Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and his director of faith-based initiatives, Jay Hein (left).
As we landed alongside the fort, history repeated itself as President Bush began his journey to emancipate some prisoners. These men were not victims however; rather, they had paid their debt to society and had already been released from behind bars. These men needed to be freed from the discrimination and injustice that kept them outside society’s acceptance and from the addictions and self-destructive patterns that got them in trouble in the first place.
We stepped off the helicopter and into the President’s limousine nicknamed “The Beast.” The moniker is perhaps an understatement. It is a 15,000-pound Cadillac armored with
enough steel to withstand bomb blasts. When its doors, weighing the same as those on a Boeing 757, close shut, occupants are safe against biochemical warfare. Yet, it is not standard protocol for Secret Service to drive The Beast into crime-ridden neighborhoods on purpose. That’s just where we were headed…