How or Why and Peace of Mind

Last night I dashed out to the local CVS to get some candy. I admit it. A quick trip, three miles or less.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a car, different make but similar style and color to mine, parked in the same corner I was headed. Then I noticed something else. The license plate number was almost identical, save for one number. Instead of an eight, hers was a zero.

A second later the driver of this car appeared. An attractive yet otherwise unremarkable young woman carrying a prescription and another small bag (maybe candy, who knows?). Yet it got me to thinking.

What if she’d just robbed the place? In the rush and panic that would ensue, what if someone mistook my car for hers?

Now that’s my active imagination,  no doubt. Here’s the problem: these things do happen. Given that she had long blonde hair and was clearly a good twenty years younger than me, chances are I wouldn’t suffer the worst. Still, in the world we live in today, I could.

The odds are worse for minorities, and we’ve all seen the stories. I remember one particularly troubling report on a news magazine, perhaps Dateline, of a man who was imprisoned for nearly 30 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Some might say, well, maybe he didn’t commit that crime, but surely he was guilty of something just as bad. Only in this case, there was no evidence of that.

He could have gotten out on parole years earlier if he’d confessed and shown remorse, but he refused, saying the only thing he had left was his name. I hope he was able to find peace once he was released, but odds were still against him after all those years of incarceration.

I hope others helped him find dignity, because he’d lived a long time without it.

We learn when we’re young that life isn’t fair. Yet we can’t live life with a constant awareness of our alibi for that moment or our excuse for doing something others might find odd. That, in and of itself, is going to raise red flags for some.

Why are our lives at times devoid of justice and peace? I don’t know. I don’t understand the imbalance in the world. But I do believe in a God who is just, even if we can’t comprehend how or why.

And that’s my peace of mind.


Photo Credit: ©Anna – stock.adobe.com

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Keep the Beasts Away

As a senior in college, my journalism classes were peppered with visits from real-life reporters.

One of them was a top crime reporter from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, whose name I’ve long forgotten. He showed up for our 9:00 class with rumpled hair, wrinkled shirt and unshaven face, holding a cup of coffee and looking too sleepy to be nervous. We weren’t shy about asking him questions, but it was when we allowed him to talk freely about his career that the most interesting information poured forth.

An earlier reporting job had been for the major daily paper in Chicago, where he worked the overnight shift. Most of the time he covered accidents and drunken brawls; if he was lucky, someone with some degree of fame was involved. One night, while playing cards with a colleague, he heard a call come over the police scanner. A woman had reported a foul odor emanating from her next-door neighbor’s home.

This kind of report was common and rarely went anywhere, but the two men figured since nothing else was going on, they might as well see what was up. Not expecting anything serious, they were intrigued by the growing number of emergency vehicles surrounding the house in question. Police weren’t talking and had roped off any access to the premises, so the reporters checked in on the neighbor who’d made the call.

A kind woman who’d lived in the same home for decades, she poured them some coffee and began talking about the man next door. Pleasant and polite, she said, but there was one strange thing. Young men, boys, really, would show up at his place on a regular basis. She’d seen plenty of them going in, but none ever came out.

That caught the attention of these reporters. They called their editor, and continued to investigate this increasingly harrowing story.

They broke the news to the world about John Wayne Gacy.

For those of you who don’t know, Gacy was one of the most notorious American serial killers of the 20th century.  Convicted in 1980 of the rape and murder of 33 young men he’d lured to his home and buried in the crawl space, he eventually was put to death by lethal injection.

The point of sharing his experience with a wide-eyed audience of journalism students was to remind us you never knew when or in what form opportunity would present itself. This horrifying story catapulted the career of these two reporters. Always seeking  information the hordes of other reporters missed, they helped fill out the tale of a gruesome tragedy.

They weren’t voyeurs, nor were the opportunists playing on the despair of others. This crime changed them in ways they were reluctant to discuss. As reporters, however, they called upon their training, formal and informal, to relay the full story. Much of what they reported is long forgotten, but a significant portion of it informed the world of the danger that could lurk in their neighborhood. If one boy heeded the lesson from their reports and saved himself from degradation and death, their work yielded the desired results.

Doctors prepare for the disaster they pray never happens; schools practice for the terror they never want to see. In our own way, preparing ourselves personally and professionally for the darkest parts of our society helps make our lives and the lives of those we care about safer.

No, we can’t live with a fatalistic attitude, nor can we worry ceaselessly about unseen events. We prepare, and go on with the joys and expectations of our lives. No better preparation can be made than that of cultivating a compassionate and caring heart, one that is grieved by tragedy but never hardened.

May you never face the worst of man or nature, and for those who do or will, may God carry you through it. And may all of us do what we can to keep the beasts away.


Image Credit:  ©Algol — stock.adobe.com

 

The Least Among You

Suppose you met someone who told you she just got out of prison for terroristic threatening.

What would you think? This woman in front of you is well-groomed, dressed fashionably yet somewhat conservatively, certainly doesn’t have a prison-tough look or demeanor and timidly is talking about her seemingly impossible search for work.

Turns out, you’ll discover, she went to prison because she threatened her ex-husband with bodily harm while holding a knife, with the children in the next room. In fact, it was her oldest daughter who called the police. It wasn’t the first argument she’d had with her husband, although it had never gone this far before. The police had been called one other time, about a year earlier, when neighbors heard them arguing and were concerned. No arrests at that time, but there was a record of the call.

pink butterfly no bkgdNo drugs, no alcohol, no physical violence. She went to prison, did her time and while she was there got anger management training, a certificate in Microsoft software proficiency and another in office administrative skills. She’d had a good job before, had always been a good worker. Now she’s fighting to get work again as the first step in regaining custody of her children, who are living with her parents.

But terroristic threatening.

In today’s world, that’s a horrible thing to have on your record. It sounds like, well, you’re a terrorist, when in fact what you did, while criminal, wasn’t what we normally think of as terroristic. Legally, what I’m talking about here means you threatened someone with the intent to terrorize them, in other words, frighten them to the point they believe they’ll be harmed. It also means it’s a highly subjective crime to prosecute.

In the case above, she threatened her husband to the point her children believed he was at risk. While that wasn’t her intent, it was the predictable result, and she went to prison for it.

Being in prison, even jail, has a terrible stigma. There is reason for that; one has committed a crime. Let me explain, briefly, the difference between jail and prison: jail is where you go when you’re first arrested, before you’re convicted, and where people with shorter sentences will end up. It’s also where people who are going to prison will start out while they wait to be transported, and in some states that can be months. Prison is where people with sentences generally over one year serve their time.

Yes, these people have done something very wrong, and there is common sense in being wary when you encounter them. But more important than that, they are human beings who are struggling to make things right. For whatever reason, the woman I described above messed up to a point of breaking the law, and of course the underlying problem wasn’t something that started that night. This likely had been going on for some time. But who am I to judge her for the path that led her there?

To see prisoners and inmates as people first is critically important

in bringing about change in their lives. They have families, they love their children. While Whatever they’ve done in the past may cause you to argue they put themselves, drugs or some other thing before their children, and perhaps they did, now they want to figure out how to do the right thing. It’s a challenge for most, more than you can imagine.

monarch no kgdThere’s the young woman whose father was injecting her with heroin when she was eleven. What chance did she have? At the age of 21, she’d spent more of her adult life in jail than not. She had a three-year-old son, and she desperately wanted to do right. Today, at 25, she’s clean and sober, has an associates’ degree and a good job. All because people cared.

These stories aren’t the exception. More often than not, this is the type of history former prisoners have.

Most don’t want to go back to criminal behavior. I can’t say all of them have a heart of gold, but they have value. And yes, we should use discretion in the doors we open for those who have committed a crime in the past and not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of in any way. However, everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.

Many who ended up in jail or prison got themselves caught up in a cycle of bad behavior they didn’t know how to get of, or they weren’t fully aware how deep in trouble they were. They are far from hardened criminals. They are people who really screwed up, and have been held accountable for it.

Please know I am aware there are those violent offenders it is wisest to stay away from in all circumstances, and hopefully they remain in prison. And certainly we need to use caution around sexual offenders, although I suggest you find out the specifics of the crime. Not all sexual offenders are sexual predators. Urinating in public and consensual sex with a teenager, even if you’re underage yourself, can put you on the sexual offender list in some states.

I’m also aware, from my own experience, of the trauma and anger that comes from being the victim of a crime. These are all legitimate concerns.

red butterfly no bkgdYet we need to use wisdom appropriate to the individual situation, and can’t place all former prisoners in the same category. It’s easy to dismiss them completely rather than allow for the possibility of reform and rehabilitation, change and growth. You may not be the one to give someone the in-depth counseling they need to get back on their feet, but your smile and considerate behavior can give them the confidence to get through the day.

And if you doubt this is the right way to view others who have failed, remember this: it’s how Jesus treated the thieves and prostitutes, the criminals, around him, down to his dying moments.

Photo Credits: (Sky background) © Graphic Stock; (Butterflies) © ecco — Fotolia