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  • Doug Tjapkes

Holy Week means hope for prisoners

Everybody loves a “second chance.” Unless it’s for a prisoner. Then we have “second thoughts.” Prosecutors and victims’ rights groups argue that those who lost their lives in heinous crimes won’t get a second chance. Why, then, should the perpetrator? And so, unlike the country of Norway where they believe that every life is redeemable, all persons can be rehabilitated, and there is no such thing as life without parole...unlike that remarkable nation, we love life sentences and even the death penalty! Punishment and retribution reduce crime, right? (It hasn’t worked yet!) But then, in Lent, comes the poignant story of Dismas. And all protestants say, “Who the heck is Dismas?” Many Catholics do, as well. Well, that’s the name that was given to the penitent thief on the cross, one of the guys getting crucified next to Jesus, Only Dr. Luke publishes this story. One criminal taunted Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” And then the other thief rebuked him, saying, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus told him, “This day you will be with me in paradise” The powerful lesson: It’s never too late. On March 25, the Catholic Church observes the Feast of St. Dismas. I like that! As a person who works and mingles with inmates, the story has deep meaning for me. It should also have deep meaning for every person behind bars. The message of Easter is not just for those of us who are and have been long-time followers of Jesus. This guy never saw Jesus perform a miracle, never read a word of the Old Testament prophets, and was at death’s door. Yet, at the last minute, he chose to make a U-turn. There’s a sermon here, of course...deep spiritual truths. But there’s broader meaning as well for the incarcerated. It’s not easy being judged by the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life. It’s terrible to be locked up for a crime you didn’t even commit. We cannot even imagine the huge challenge in attempting to get a fresh start. This story offers hope. Every second a seeker can start over, For his life’s mistakes Are initial drafts And not the final version. -Sri Chinmoy Holy Week is Hope Week. For all of us. Especially those behind bars.

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