Revenge or a Balm?
By Steve Clemens. FPC Duluth. April 30, 2006
Delusions of grandeur? Or desperately clinging to hope... or revenge? At breakfast this morning I overheard the guy at the end of our 6 person table talking about his case to the inmate across from him. “I’m gonna nail that SOB...I’m gonna take his house, his wife, his wedding ring... I’m gonna file racketeering charges on his ass....” Yada, yada, yada. Some guys can never let go of their cases because they’ve let them stew and fester inside this fence. This inmate claims he’s getting out next week (May 5) and will have the FBI agent who hounded and arrested him “arrested and throw his butt into jail.” The likelihood of a convicted felon being able to turn the tables on a federal officer is the stuff of pipe dreams in here but it is a strange way to hold on to hope by plotting revenge.
I’m noticing a pattern that some guys will talk to anyone who’ll listen with even a modicum of empathy in order to vent some of the pain that has been bottled-up for years and eats like a cancer within. I can imagine some of these guys spending all their waking hours (and even their dreams?) plotting their revenge and thus destroying any possibility of normalcy upon their release. Maybe one of the saddest products of this “corrections” or “justice” system is knowing that more than 80% of all convicts will eventually be released to our streets and the system has only kept picking at the scabs—never letting old wounds heal.
But I’ve also witness another approach. At the Catholic Scripture discussion group meeting this past week, a guy who used to be involved in organized crime [I guess a lot of the crime that brought people here was disorganized!] said that “since coming to Christ, I’ve forgiven the guys I ran with, I’ve forgiven the judge, the prosecutor....” “I just want to be able to make things right.” Another inmate in our small gathering of five, including the visiting nun in her 80s, said he keeps going over and over and over again some of the things he’s done (or left undone) and “although I know God has forgiven me, I can’t quite forgive myself yet.”
I’ve seen my share of “jailhouse religion” and, at times, all the God-talk makes me want to retch—especially all the “Father-God” language in prayers that cries out for an anthropomorphic God to fix the father-wound many of these men have. Yet here were two men, both in their fifties I’d guess, struggling with what forgiveness might look like instead of revenge. The good Sister (I can say that because she comes highly recommended to me by my fellow Pax Christi board members in the Twin Cities) listens with empathy and love, not rushing in too quickly with the pat assurances I’ve heard so often when I’ve been “inside” the cages and confines of jail and prison life.
There is always the risk that any jailhouse religion is an opiate of the masses. But opiates or the myriad of other narcotics many have been sent here for using, possessing, selling, and/or “conspiracy to sell,” often only mask the hurts, pains, and wounds society has inflicted (or which have been self-inflicted). I do believe, I have also experience the “Balm in Gilead” that Martin Luther King often talked about. How can we help to spread that healing balm, the “healing river” of the gospel song, upon this parched, dry ground?