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November 15, 2010

Taking faith behind bars

15 years ago I was a supporter of the death penalty. That has changed. It didn’t happen all of the sudden. I began to think about where to draw the line in condemning people to death, and I realized there wasn’t a point where I could comfortably draw that line. I then began to do research on the subject. As a result, although I acknowledge that there are rational arguments to be made on both sides of the issue, I can no longer support capital punishment.

Over the course of time, I decided I felt called to try to share my faith with someone on death row. I began corresponding with one inmate, and over time I began writing to several others in several different states. I’m not under any illusions that the people I write to are great guys who should be out on the street. With one possible exception, I hope they never step outside of prison walls. On the other hand…

The people I write to have little or no contact with family, and there are few people who maintain friendships with folks who will never leave prison. The largest cell any of my correspondents live in is 7 by 12 feet, and they are there for 23 hours out of each day. There are solid walls between surrounding them rather than prison bars, so the only time they see a human face is when the guards look through the small grilled window or when another inmate is led by, perhaps to take a shower or meet with their attorney. When inmates are escorted to take a shower or to take recreation once a week in a “dog run” outside, they are shackled en route. They have no privacy. They are subjected to “cavity checks” frequently. My penpals in Florida, Mississippi, and Arizona don’t have air conditioning. We aren’t talking about luxury prisons here, and I’m certainly not suggesting we should provide convicted felons with all the comforts of home.

But one thing they do have while they’re incarcerated: a chance to regain their freedom if it is discovered that they are innocent. 138 people have been released from death row after evidence proved their innocence since 1973. Some of these people spent nearly two decades locked up for a crime they didn’t commit. At least one of them came within 48 hours of being put to death before his innocence was proven. We will never be able to restore what these inmates have lost… but thank God they weren’t executed in the name of “justice”.

And one other thing they’ve got as long as they’re incarcerated: a chance to develop remorse for their wrongs.. a chance for repentance.

Visiting or writing to prisoners may not be your thing, and that’s OK. Each member of the Body of Christ has a different function, a different task to accomplish. But I hope you’ll join me today in praying for prisoners and their families, and for the victims of crime and their families. And I hope you'll come back each day this week and explore another facet of the death penalty debate.
Read the entire week-long series on the death penalty:
The execution team
Is “closure” a copout?
The murderer’s mom
Ways you can help
A last look


  1. I used to think the death penalty was ok too, but realized innocent people were put to death so I am against it now.
    I would like to write to people in prison. I went on the net to find some, but they all seem to be sites looking for boyfriends or girlfriends. If you know of a good site, please post it. Thanks for your thoughts on this issue.

  2. I almost can't speak to this. The fact that I'm against the death penalty in principle doesn't seem to permit me from getting angry enough at certain crimes to wish their perpetrators dead. Case in point, the DC snipers who terrorized our region earlier in this decade. The younger one, while they were still in Washington state, took a class from one of my brothers. If they had started their rampage in that school, and killed my brother....

  3. In what respect I do not disagree with the death penalty.
    I my opinion it really depends on the seriousness of the crime committed. Was the one who committed the murder of sound mind, if not, then why wasn't this addressed before, you can't blame that kind of person, and I know this from first experience of someone very very close to me!
    But then there are those, who feel no remorse, and know exactly what they are doing when they commit the crime of murder.
    However, in saying that, if prison was stricter, as in, ALL privelages are removed from the prisoners, inclusive TV, phone calls etc etc, then that would be a better deterrent and solution.

  4. I can also say that, for most of my life, I have been a somewhat strong supporter of the death penalty. I think I still "favor" it (for lack of a better word) for the very worst of the worst. What changed my mind, I think, was my more conservative values. I rarely have too much faith and confidence in the government to operate at a level of anything like perfection. So, why on earth should I assume the death penalty is sought, imposed and applied with anything like perfection? It just doesn't make sense. And, of course, an execution cannot be reversed. That should be sobering to all rational minded persons.


  5. "a chance to develop remorse for their wrongs.. a chance for repentance"

    To me that and the possibility of innocence cause me to have a position similar to yours Sue.

  6. Very interesting topic. I'm against death penalty, because I don't think any human being has the right to take someone else's life, or make that decision. That is to play God. In many situations, as for example when it's about child murderers and molesters, I do consider it. But after some thinking, I'm back again.. what right do we have to play God??

  7. Perhaps I just haven't looked into it as deeply as most of the commenters here, but I still favor the death penalty. In modern cases, with DNA evidence being incorporated from the start, the chance of a false conviction for a charge eligible for the dp is slim (and I'm no naive trusting believer in government). It simply seems both unwise and un-constructive to let violent, ruthless and unrepentant criminals languish in prison. Their endless time allows them to tie up the legal system with pointless and expensive appeals, complaints, etc. Taxpayers fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep them locked up when we know they're never going to get rehabbed or be safe to set free. God is capable of all things, including changing any heart, but if a man sells his soul to the point that he lands himself on death row, I'd say it's fairly clear where he's chosen to stand. Actions have consequences.

    That said, I am interested to read the rest of this thread and see what I learn.

  8. Hi Jamie, and thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    I, too, used to think that implementing the death penalty was less expensive than life without parole. Numerous studies have shown that this is not the case, however. If you're interested, check here for more information:

    Thanks again for visiting, and for your thoughts.


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