I sent condolences to two friends this week who lost elderly parents. Even though we completely understand that our parents are getting old and that we cannot keep them forever, it’s still a loss. In both of these cases, my friends were near their parent at the time of death, and were able to grieve in the midst of family and loved ones.
I was also reminded this week that experiencing the death of family members is not the same for people behind bars.
One of our board members reported that her friend behind bars had lost a loved one. Her words:
I got a note from Karen today. Her brother died. That is her second loss this year. She lost another brother earlier this year. My heart is breaking for her. And there she sits. And will sit for probably the rest of her life. I am so sad for the family that will grieve without her and for her to grieve alone. She knows Christ. She trusts in Christ. She has a relationship with Christ. But—she is so fragile in her humanness. Just had to share with you.
Our friend Joe watched in frustration last week as he sat helplessly in a prison van, while paramedics ministered to his elderly step-father who suffered a medical emergency right there in the prison parking lot. He had driven to Ionia from Detroit just to be at his step-son’s Public Hearing. Sadly, he not only missed the hearing, he died the next day. Joe wasn’t able to hold him in his arms during his dying moments. He wasn’t able to say good-bye. He’s not able to grieve with family members. But then, he’s just a prisoner. He committed a terrible crime 38 years ago…must never forget that.
Kenny Wyniemko, whose rape conviction was overturned by DNA testing after he served 8 years behind bars, weeps every time he tells the story about his father’s death. It happened while he was in prison for something he didn’t do, and the result was that he could not attend the funeral service. He was forced to mourn alone. Behind bars.
We may have found one answer to the question, “Oh death, where is your sting?”
I write this not to bring about some dramatic change in criminal justice, but simply to point out that prisoners are people, not statistics. Their need for love is no different than yours or mine.
Remember them in your charitable giving, and in your prayers.