I have a bad habit. I tend to refer to some of my favorite people as “good guys.” When introducing my son Matt, for example, I love to point out that “he’s one of the good guys!” And he is.
My point, however, is that my statement gives the implication that the opposite also exists. If there are good guys, there must be bad guys. And that’s just not accurate.
Often when I speak at church or civic groups, someone will be quietly thinking that I’m one of those bleeding-heart liberals who want to free all criminals. So, they ask, “But don’t you agree that there are some really bad people?”
We constantly encounter negative terms for prisoners: animals, predators, savages, beasts, the “worst of the worst.”
Father Greg Boyle, who works with gang members, tackles negative descriptions like these head-on. He says we stand with those people until their behavior is recognized for the language it is: the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear.”
Father Boyle was once asked by a Prosecutor to testify as a gang expert in a death penalty hearing. “What would you say, Father Boyle, about a man who …” At that point, the Prosecutor described an unspeakable act in gruesome detail. Well gosh, says Father Greg, imagine how bleak and dark one’s despair would have to be do such a thing.
Here at HFP, we’ve come to the realization that Fr. Boyle is correct:
There are no monsters, villains, or bad guys. There are only folks who carry unspeakable pain. There are among us the profoundly traumatized who deal in the currency of damage. And there are those whose minds are ill, whose sickness chases them every day. But there are no bad guys. Jesus seems to suggest that there are no exceptions to this.
From Barking to the Choir
At her sentencing for life without parole, a woman was heard to say: “I did what they say I did, but I’m not who they say I am.”
Father Boyle says about violent gang members, Every homie I know who has killed somebody…has carried a load one hundred times heavier than I have had to carry, weighed down by torture, violence, abuse, neglect, abandonment, or mental illness. Most of us have never borne that weight.
Desmond Tutu once stated: There are no evil people, just evil acts; no monsters, just monstrous acts.
And that’s where I am today with this posting. I love prisoners. Our team loves prisoners. We may not like all of them, and we certainly don’t like what they did. We may argue with some, and some of them may speak to us in loud voices. But, it’s important for them to know that our care and compassion comes to them in love. We don’t see them as “bad guys.”
Fr. Greg sums up this topic: We are free not to like that truth, but we are not free to deny it.