An inmate at a jail in the Bronx had an interesting insight, distilled from his life experiences:- “When someone wrongs us, we want the maximum amount of punishment. But when we do wrong, we want the maximum amount of understanding and forgiveness.” As a teenager he was robbed of his paper round earnings of $27 by 3 older boys. He got a knife, found them and stabbed all three and this began his own criminal life. His response or reaction to the evil inflicted on him took him down that same road.
A former inmate from Manila city jail that I met recently had a different story. He was framed by an acquaintance for a multiple murder, a forced confession under torture was obtained by Police officers eager for promotion and he was sentenced to death by electric chair. (This was during the Marcos era when the death sentence was still used). He spent the next 6 years on death row, mostly in solitary. During that time, through the Prison ministry and a life in the Spirit seminar, he had a conversion and was able to forgive the people who had contributed to his woes. He accepted all as coming from the hand of God, whilst still pleading for his life to the new president. Soon after, his appeal was referred to the Supreme Court and he was found not-guilty and released. Since then he travels between jails to reach out to inmates, telling his story and bringing them what little relief he can, grateful to God and compassionate to his brother inmates, whose sufferings he understands all too well.
How we respond to the evil we encounter in life has a profound effect on the result.
For the Lenten season this year I was inspired to pray for the people who had caused pain and suffering in my life, I decided to have Masses offered for the more malevolent and malicious among them. And as I prayed during these first weeks of lent, I found many names and faces from the past come up who still had some capacity to affect me as I relived the incidents and then prayed for them. For example I thought of a sadistic school teacher, a false friend, an overcritical work colleague, a bully during my school days. The worse they were, the more I pitied them. Forgiveness is a must as we need it too, from those we have wronged and of course from God.