I talked to a murderer today.
It's not an uncommon experience, he calls occasionally. Sometimes I forget that he has ended the life of another person, causing unimaginable pain and suffering. He knows and acknowledges his crime and will spend the rest of his life in prison for his actions. He was a young man, under the influence of drugs and alcohol when he took another person's life. He is an old man now. I don't know any other details and I don't want to know. I try to imagine the pain he has caused and how his victim(s) family must feel. It's often too much to think about it hurts so much. I don't speak to him for very long. He wants to talk to John. John is involved with a prisoner education program. He volunteers. He is a friend.
From the moment John talked to me about his desire to work with the prison population, I have had to deal with my own fears. John wanted to make sure that I felt comfortable with each step of this journey and at any point we could change or alter the plans so that we could keep our family safe. I understood and learned things about the importance of education and the recivity rate of reincarceration. Logically my brain knew we would be safe however...
I still feared.
These were horrible people. People who didn't deserve the goodness and compassion my darling husband wanted to offer. These people were evil. I read the news stories. I doubted that it was possible for these kinds of people to truly change. I was lead by fear and that was wrong.
The reality is that, for the most part, they are good people who made some serious mistakes. Not all, there are some prisoners who are truly evil, but I have come to learn that my preconceived notions and judgements were inaccurate. Sometimes small choices, lead to bigger choices, and bigger choices lead to a lifetime of consequences.
I have been wrong.
One man I spoke to said that the best life he has ever known was within the walls of a prison. I then learned the horrors of his life and childhood wondering how a mother could abuse a child like that. I wept as I kissed my sleeping babies that night. We often complain about our circumstances and forget how blessed we truly are when all around the world there are people suffering horribly, often at the hands of those who should protect and cherish.
I never imagined that I would allow a recently released prisoner into my home for dinner, to associate with my children, but it has happened and my life has been blessed because I let go of my fear and had a little faith.
I have only known these people when they were prisoners. Their crimes are branded onto them and will follow them wherever they go. However God has known them from the beginning of time. They are His children just as you or I. He loves them, just as he does you and I. He also requires repentance from all of us. We all make mistakes, things we regret and wish we could do over again. Often the consequences to our actions appear as if they can never be repaired. We feel lost and alone, but we are never alone. Christ is our advocate, our Savior. We all need Christ.
"You may in time of trouble think that you are not worth saving because you have made mistakes, big or little, and you think you are now lost. That is never true! Only repentance can heal what hurts. But repentance can heal what hurts, no matter what it is....
Some will make critically serious mistakes, transgressing the laws of the gospel. Here it is time to remind you of the Atonement, repentance, and complete forgiveness to the point that you can become pure again. The Lord said, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”13
If the adversary should take you prisoner due to misconduct, I remind you that you hold the key that will unlock the prison door from the inside. You can be washed clean through the atoning sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ." (President Boyd K. Packer, "Counsel to Youth", General Conference, October 2011)
My interaction, association, and knowledge of the prison population is limited. Perhaps I am naive because I want to judge less and love more. John has kept us safe and has shielded us from harm. I can only take what I have learned and teach my children that they are loved, that repentance is important. I can try and teach them right from wrong and to love all people despite their differences. I can hope and pray that they will live in faith and not fear.