No matter how long I work in this business, there are some things that I just cannot get used to.
I don’t know what to say to the old-timer who just got flopped by the Michigan Parole Board: The inmate in his or her 70s and 80s who, you can bet on a stack of Bibles, would never commit a crime again and certainly would not be a threat to society, but to whom the Parole Board refuses to grant a second chance. Some of these people are struggling with illness, some have family members who desperately need them back home, and some were even wrongly convicted. Makes no difference.
I don’t know what to say to prisoners with serious ailments who contact us, supported by all the necessary medical documents and records. I don’t know how to respond to these inmates, their families and their loved ones, who ask this simple question: Why can’t they get appropriate care and treatment?
I don’t have the right Bible verse to quote to the wrongly convicted prisoner who has served decades, whose attorneys and legal advisers obviously made some missteps along the way, and who now have exhausted all avenues in the path toward exoneration. They’re innocent. Someone else committed the crime. But they’re behind bars, and they can’t get out.
I don’t know what to suggest to the mother of a mentally ill child who is still in prison, way past her suggested release date. The girl is so mentally ill that she can’t stay out of trouble, so the system refuses to release her. The mother isn’t saying her daughter should not be institutionalized…she’s simply saying that this is the wrong institution.
Please don’t get me wrong. We receive many positive strokes in our business. We hear our share of good stories. A number of our friends are granted paroles. The compliments and kind words that flow into our office bless us beyond measure.
But, I can’t just quote Romans 8:28 and assure these hurting individuals that things are going to be OK if they trust in the Lord. The reality is that, for many of them, things are not OK, and they’re not going to be OK. And I hurt right along with them.
I had a dear friend who rebounded from a serious disaster, reached a peak of happiness in her life, only to have it cruelly destroyed by two deaths…first her spouse, then their only child. I was speechless at the funeral home. The best I could do was hold her hand and weep.
I feel confident quoting this Psalm to the distressed, because I believe it: The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
Other than that, sometimes it feels like all I can do is hold their hands and weep.