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March 1, 2012

A reflection

For years now, I've been writing to several inmates on death row. One of them, Robert, was executed yesterday.

What he did was evil - a fact that he'd acknowledged. He fully deserved and fully accepted that he would have to pay for his crime. So do I. But I do not believe that executing him solved anything. In my opinion, it simply served to perpetuate the cycle of violence. It didn't bring back the victim. It didn't undo any pain. I can't imagine it truly brought healing to those who survived. There will be those who claim, however, that "justice" was done.

Thank God I receive His mercy, and not "justice".

One of the most revealing experiences I’ve had in my life was when I went down to Florida to visit one of my penpals. At the time, at least, there were contact visits in Florida’s death row. (I’m not sure that is still the case.) There was a good-sized room with tables & chairs bolted down, vending machines, and some board games. After all of us – inmate and visitor alike – were searched, inmates and visitors would be able to visit each other. A brief hug and peck on the cheek could even be exchanged. The only distinction between us was that the inmates were dressed all in white and came through one door, while the rest of us wore “street clothes” and came through another.

Suffice it to say that I’d been rather nervous about visiting, especially when I realized that I’d be in a room full of people who’d been convicted of murder.

Folks were allowed to wander around a bit, and it was obvious that some of the visitors had become acquainted with inmates that they weren’t actually visiting. Some folks were playing games, some were eating food from out of the machines, some were just talking. But I was suddenly struck by something. For all the world, it “felt” like I was in a K & W Cafeteria or some such. Outside of the clothing, there was nothing that made “murderers” seem in the least bit different from “normal people”. In fact, had all of us been wearing the same sort of clothing, it would have been impossible to tell us apart.

This was one experience that has stayed with me. No matter which side of the razor wire we live on, we’re all very much alike. There’s some evil in each one of us, and there’s some good in each one of us.

None of us deserve God’s mercy. Every last one of us has messed up. Every last one of us has acted in such a way as to nail Jesus to the cross. And every last one of us – you, me, and Robert – has to trust and rely on the mercy of God. 

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  1. Interesting and emotive post.
    I also do not agree with the death penalty. I understand the theory behind it but do not really agree with it.
    It's a cycle of violence that doesn't (imo) serve any purpose other than to distinguish a life - no one has the right to do that.
    IMO it would be more of a deterrant to take away a persons freedom for the entirety of their life. Executing them gives them back a freedom they have no right to.
    Emotive subject though.


  2. I have never know anyone on death row, but I myself do not believe in the death penalty. I have tried to put myself in the family of the victims position, and I can see how they would want someone dead for murdering their child. I hope I am never in that position! I know we all do. I do believe that God is the only one that has a RIGHT to take a life! We have no right to do that at all. Thanks for sharing this!!

  3. Thank you for this moving post. I don't support the death penalty, and my heart breaks every time I see on the news people gathered and celebrating after a death-row inmate is put to death.

    You are one very brave woman, I think... an uncommon soul. Have you read Sr. Helen Prejean's, 'Dead Man Walking'? I think you would find MUCH about it to appreciate.

    Again, THANK YOU!

  4. Thank you so much for linking up to my blog hop! I'm a new follower and would love it if you'll follow back.

    Last year I met an amazing woman at a conference and became immediate friends. Later, I learned that she was the wife of Fernando Bermudez, a man who spent 18 years in Sing Sing prison for a murder he didn't commit. He was eventually exonerated and spends his time speaking around the country against capital punishment.

    I'm so sorry to hear about your friend, Robert.

  5. A moving post. I have a very divided mind regarding the death penalty. I am more in Pope John Paul II's camp where he says that it is rarely needed these days. Most of all, I think it is important for a criminal to have the chance to repent and make amends with God who is both justice and mercy. And the victims have to learn forgiveness, something I find hard in little things and can't imagine how I would manage in something big like murder. God bless you in your calling to "visit the imprisoned" with letters.

  6. Wow...I'm in awe of you for living your faith this way. Another thing to which I aspire. There's so much pain in a situation like this: for the family of the victim, the family of the person who was executed, for you for your loss, too.

  7. Visiting from Best Post Of the Week -
    You stated Robert had committed an evil crime. Apparently knowing his crime, I am curious to know what type of punishment you feel would be sufficient for what he did.

  8. In the past, was involved with men in jail, one for murdering a friend of mine -- both were at a downtown Missions for homeless, and the one came in drunk, got mad at his best friend [MY good "Dad"] and stabbed him; didn't even know he'd murdered someone until he woke up in jail. Ernie contacted me when in jail and in prison and I tried to be available for him. I lost him after he was released a couple years later... amazingly, b/c they were considered "low life" guys, his murder wasn't counted as much. I've also been involved with others. The important part: sharing the Word of God and drawing them to forgiveness and a heavenly future. I've thought of getting involved again; know a number who are. This was a good reminder. Sorry for your sorrow; happy for your blessedness, your welcomed hand and heart.

  9. Sue, I can relate to this. I too had pen pals in prison after I went there to sing on several occasions. It’s like I found new brothers. It must have broken your heart when Robert was executed, knowing him as you did. Bless you for visiting the least of these.
    I’m from NC too, in the eastern part of the state. Wish we could talk over a cup of coffee or tea!

  10. God is faithful to forgive the repentant sinner. This is a good thing that you are doing to let your faith in Jesus shine even through a pen pal ministry.

  11. Wow,
    You know what this sounds like to me? A book idea. I was really interested from sentence number one. Inspiring post (and ministry!).

  12. a good reminder that any success and blessings we enjoy are because of his love and mercy. so glad you are making a difference among some special people God wants to reach with his love.

  13. Interesting perspective. I'm glad you shared your thoughts and experiences with us. When we stand before God it won't be justice we want. It will be mercy. Since Jesus paid the price for our justification we can receive His mercy.

  14. Ah - I thought I left my comments on this post but I did leave them on your follow-up. This is what happens when you have multiple windows open and are just starting your day!

    This post touched me deeply, Sue, and brought to mind for me Jesus's last moments on the cross with the repentant thief. Yes, by choice or by accident, we can commit the most heinous of crimes and yes, our Heavenly Father can forgive us...even when we, in our humanity, cannot.

    Have a blessed day Sue!

  15. Wow what a moving description. "Every last one of us has acted in such a way as to nail Jesus to the cross." So true... thanks for inviting me to think deeper about this as we are in the season of Lent. Thanks for linking up with NOBH!

  16. Thank you for sharing your story. I would love to be involved in a prison ministry. I hope God will open that door for me. I do correspond with a cousin who is in prison, and it has brought us much closer together. Now that I actually know someone in prison, it pains me much more to hear of the brutality that goes on. No one deserves to have their dignity taken away, let alone their life.


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