By Tina Bailey
The only sentence worse than life with no end date is the death penalty.
But in conversation with several of my friends, some days they say otherwise.
I spend time each week teaching in art programs in two prisons, as well as listening to anything my friends want to talk about. Some of my friends inside the prison have life sentences.
In some places like where I live, for people who have life sentences it means LIFE ( until you die) and unless they get an unlikely sentence reduction, they will die in prison. For some who were arrested as young as 18 for non-violent crimes (like being a drug mule, for example) my friends Matt and Siyi, we are talking 60 or 70 years. It is truly hard to get your head around. They say it is a death penalty—it just takes a lot longer.
Interestingly, in most cases, the actual dealers (bosses) get lighter sentences because they have the money to pay large “fines.” But we will not dwell on that point here.
Some come to terms with the reality that this may indeed be the only life they will ever know, and get busy making it work by creating programs, staying busy, often helping others who will go free. They stay hopeful—on most days. Often there is a spiritual reality to their lives that helps them see beyond themselves. Support systems and family also play a part in keeping their hope alive.
Others do not fare so well. They do what they can to escape their reality, usually through drug use or anything that keeps them from thinking. Depression is hard to avoid. Suicidal thoughts loom somewhere in the imagination as a final escape.
It is truly amazing to know these incredible people who hold onto hope. The motivation for change comes from deep inside. Because there is no guarantee that changes they have made in themselves and in the lives of others will make any difference at all in the sentence. It is tiring work holding on to hope, and of course even the hopeful face times of despair and wanting to give up. I completely understand when they feel that way, but still commit to be there with them and keep holding onto hope for them and with them.
I hope and pray that mercy abounds…but honestly it rarely does. This is where the breakdown comes in, because, how can you really have justice unless mercy holds it’s hand? When the evidence of a changed life is not taken into account, how can leaders hold their heads up and speak of rehabilitation.
Mercy means believing change is possible so that when it happens you are ready to see it and respond—this is true justice.
Tina Bailey is a CBF field personnel and CBF-endorsed chaplain serving alongside her husband, Jonathan, in Bali, Indonesia, through chaplaincy, prison ministry and community art initiatives. Learn more about and support their work at www.cbf.net/bailey.
The Baileys’ long-term presence in Indonesia is made possible by the CBF Offering for Global Missions. Join God’s mission in the world. Give to the Offering for Global Missions. 100 percent of your church’s gifts will be used to send CBF field personnel to share the Good News of Jesus Christ around the world. Go to www.cbf.net/transform and order your free OGM resources today.