Expressing Mercy Inside and Outside Prison

I don’t speak about Christine often, but she is one of my pen pals who is in prison in Texas. After two of her children died in a house fire, she lost her grounding. She didn’t know who or how to be without them. She struggled with her mental wellbeing and addiction. This led to her crime.

I cannot imagine her experience and don’t pretend to know how it feels. She writes me from time to time. Her writing is not fluid and expressive like Mikey’s or ripe with intelligent social and political commentary like Taj’s. But she writes, so I answer. I tell her little things about my days and she tells me about hers. She calls me “sweetie” when she writes to me, draws in little hearts in the margins, and sends me “hugs” at the end.

I told her friend Lacey that I opened the Bible recently—out of curiosity more than anything; I wanted to know what I didn’t know. Would there be revelations? Lacey apparently shared this with Christine (the two met in the “faith-based dorm”), and Christine wrote back to me “elated.” “You are a bright, insightful young woman,” she wrote to me. “You have a platform and connections. You have an audience…So, I’m not sure why, but I felt compelled to send you these articles…Truths about God’s word.”

“I know you are not gay,” she went on, “that’s not why I’m sending these to you. But this new ‘anything goes’ society scares the crap out of me.” She was referring to people who identify as gay or transgender. “I have dozens of gay friends whom I love dearly,” she went on, a sentiment echoed in one of the articles she sent: Cissie Graham Lynch claims to “love” people in the LGBTQ community with her “whole heart,” but wrote about their sin and the urgency of convincing young people that homosexuality is wrong. “Only 24% of churched Generation Z Christians, aged 13-18, believe that homosexuality is wrong," she wrote. "If we’re not careful, by the next generation no one will think it’s wrong.” God forbid.

I was thinking about Christine’s feelings, her words, and I know I must have mercy. If I choose to respond, I must respond kindly but clearly.

Still, I struggle with it, with how she of all people can speak so mercilessly of others’ sins. I don’t understand how a woman in prison, who is so dependent on the forgiveness and acceptance of others—future employers, loan officers, neighbors, her children—can speak so fervently against accepting people with a different sexual orientation. She sent me an article by Franklin Graham that argues that allowing individuals who are transgender to use public bathrooms according to their self-identified gender is a threat to the “safety of our women and children.” Again, this is coming from a woman who is in prison, whose own behavior has—rightly or wrongly—led her to be deemed a threat to the safety of our women and children.

Graham quotes First Corinthians 6:9-11: “Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites…will inherit the kingdom of God.”

If that is the kingdom of God, I don’t want it.

If I were to imagine my own queendom, it would celebrate Love, including self-love—be who you are. Love who you love. That is the only world I want to inherit.

I’ve shared this because the Graham articles were upsetting to me, made my stomach turn. But, also, because I want to express the truth of the experience of writing to people in prison. There are lots of people I care about inside—intelligent, articulate, compassionate, talented people. People who make me laugh. I share their writings liberally. But writing to people in prison is like making connections on the outside, too—not everyone shares the same beliefs, of course. Not everyone is a gifted communicator; we all have our own talents—so many inside have talents I don’t possess. Not everyone is a perfect fit as a friend. Not all the letters I answer (because, still, I answer many) are easy for me, or are the ones I rip open with pleasure and anticipation.

Still, people who are incarcerated are people. Who deserve an opportunity to heal. Who deserve resources and supports. Who deserve forgiveness. Who deserve not to be punished beyond whatever sentence the judge ordered. Who deserve Love, including self-love.

Love is love is love. Spread it to all people.



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