Sometimes we accuse and convict the wrong people.
A prisoner forfeits everything. Isolated from friends and family, removed from society, he learns to trust no one.
When I stopped to ask questions of the prison ministry volunteer, I could never have imagined the road ahead. Barbed wire. Guard towers. Locked gates. Security and scrutiny – everywhere. All this, before being escorted within, and always, always, in the presence of a guard.
Once into the routine of weekly religious services, however, I was able to focus on the prisoners. Each impressed me differently. Several were obviously challenged, though they struggled to keep pace with the rest. Always, there was a smooth talker, trying to impress. One man told me what had brought him to prison, but most never discussed their crimes. Often, they spoke of mothers, sisters, aunts, girlfriends or wives “at home.” Family mattered most. Family was having someone who still loved them, no matter what. All craved that human connection.
One man stood apart. He was quiet, polite, but reserved. Only later, would I discover how desperately lonely he was, and how close he was to giving up. With little time before and after services, I could only glean bits of information about him. Little by little, however, he began to talk…and trust.
When his health worsened, he was transferred. It was then we began writing.
Some people have strength beyond anything I can imagine.
As I came to know his story, I learned he had been in prison over twenty years. He told me that, yes, he was guilty of the initial crime that had put him there. However, several years later, while serving his sentence, he was accused and convicted of something he did not do. He had been trying, ever since – without outside help or financial ability – to prove his innocence.
Through his eyes I watched guards help themselves to inmates’ food. I wondered about questionable medical care. I took affront along with him when he was denied a Christmas gift – a hardcover book – because of its “potential” for being a dangerous weapon – despite written guidelines allowing it. I recalled the humiliation I felt when I saw prisoners transported, bound in chains.
Trusting and believing in someone may require a test of faith, but that investment in a human life reaches far beyond the sound of words. It travels straight to the heart of the soul in need. With trust, I believe a person rises to the occasion
This is his twenty-eighth year of confinement. We continue to write. He continues to try to find a person to listen, who can help. I know that he has been able to keep going, in part, because of my faith in him. He has continued to fight, despite the system’s barriers, flaws, and frustrations. And me? I have been blessed and strengthened simply by knowing this man. I am proud and I am honored to know that he calls me “friend.”
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