I first saw a poster bearing those words in the office of a woman employed by a Christian college. I believe she either had a special needs child, or worked with special needs children. The words were scrawled on a plain white sheet with crayon. That was 45 years ago, but the message stuck with me…especially in this work with prisoners…especially this week.
Before I tell my story, however, let me quickly summarize a familiar one told by the apostle John. A group of religious leaders brought a woman of ill repute to our Lord. She had been caught in the act, and based on their opinion of Old Testament laws, she had to be stoned to death. Jesus turned the matter around and advised her accusers that the guy who was free of sin should throw the first rock. One by one, the trouble-makers walked away. Then these beautiful words: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you.”
Now my story.
Mr. C, an elderly white male, died in a nearby Michigan prison this week. We hadn’t known each other for long. A fellow prisoner, who knows the heart of HFP, suggested that Mr. C ask us for help. That was in early April. He was serving time, a lot of it, on sex charges.
His story could have been written by hundreds and thousands of alleged sex offenders, especially those who are poor and cannot afford adequate defense. Once the accusations had been made by someone close to the family, it was if he had contracted leprosy!
-Police allegedly violated his rights, searching his home without a warrant.
-The evidence taken, he said, was not what police described in the trial.
-His court-appointed attorney claimed to be prepared for trial, but met with him only 3 times in 3 months. His heart obviously wasn’t in this low-paying job for an alleged sex criminal.
-He was convicted of not one, not two, not three, but eight sex charges by a jury!
His down-hill slide didn’t end there. The stigma remained.
-He felt the scorn and disdain of prisoners, who embellished rumors of his crimes.
-Some prison staff members don’t hide their feelings about alleged sex offenders.
-The same held true for medical staff who were required to treat him when cancer was diagnosed.
Mr. C begged us for help to find the real evidence that would acquit him for something he didn’t do.
Prisoner A begged us to help this allegedly innocent man with his legal problems.
Prisoner B begged us to get appropriate medical care for him…he was struggling.
And we tried. HIPAA would make it impossible to get hospital records that allegedly would clear this man’s record. However, improving his current existence was another matter. Working with the warden, an allergy-free mattress was provided to ease the coughing, and he was given a friendly bunkie.
But his health rapidly deteriorated.
Said our informant on May 19: He didn’t look too good leaving for the hospital.
Said our informant yesterday: Mr. C died. He had returned from the hospital gasping for breath two nights later and they sent him back. The next thing we heard was that he died. He was 68.
Finally for Mr. C, no more physical and mental discomfort, no more lack of acceptance, no more looks of accusation and disgust. Neither do I condemn you.