If I admit to a robbery, rape or a homicide the law can only condemn me. It cannot reconcile me with others and forgive my sins and trespasses. The law identifies me as an offender, one who has transgressed against God and other human beings. The exact nature of my sins is known to me and God, but the fact is that everyone has sinned and broken God’s law of love. It does not matter if it was a lie or minor theft, or if it was a more serious transgressions. They are all sins and carry the penalty of eternal separation from God. Yet, realizing the desperateness and hopelessness of our situation, God in His infinite Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness has provided a way to be reconciled to Him. That is the nature of God’s love for us. I cannot do anything in my own power to rectify my sins, but He has provided a substitute in the form of His own Son, Jesus Christ who has paid the eternal consequences for all of my sins and trespasses.
Dismas Project’s outreach to death row prisoners is focused upon two factors: Truth and Reconciliation. Many condemned prisoners have no one with whom they can communicate about the most essential aspects of their lives. In reaching out too others in Jesus name, we are hoping to provide a connection which gives your life a new meaning and purpose. There is no one so far gone that the Holy Spirit cannot touch their lives and transform the time remaining into a redeemed life that touches the lives of others. I can choose to wallow in regret, shame and bitterness, or I can accept this free gift of Grace and allow my life to become an example of God’s great love for all of us. The choice is your own, but as with all choices it comes with eternal consequences. It does not matter at this point in time how bad your previous have been, God is in the business of saving those who seek Him.
Recently I have had the experience of discovering a truth. It was there all along, but I never noticed it before. In the bible we are taught that God has a three part nature in One Person: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our own lives manifest in the exact same way. We are body, soul and spirit. So the statement that we are created in God’s image and likeness has great meaning in our lives. Now let’s consider another teaching from scripture, do you remember the story of Noah and the flood. According to that teaching God instructed Noah to build an ark of gopher wood and to seal it inside and outside to prevent seepage from the flood waters. Recently I have begun to understand that our bodies are similar to the ark, they serve the purpose of safely transporting out soul and spirit through the process of life and delivering us intact into God’s eternal presence. Just like the ark provided safely and shelter for those contained within its walls, our bodies serve the exact same process for sheltering our souls and spirits through the ravishes of life itself.
Living your dash: 1945-? I have no way to know when it is my time to go, but I am determined to live out my dash in the most productive way possible. When you are gone what will be your legacy? Will your efforts be summed in a newspaper clipping or a closed FBI file marked DECEASED? The things that you do today will determine your legacy tomorrow. We each have choices about how we live out the time remaining to us and no one can deprive us of that right. So what would you want your legacy to be? How can you rise above the circumstances of your life? You are on the inside and I am on the outside, but I want to join with you and help you achieve something meaningful in your life. One of the things which caught my attention were the extraordinary efforts made in South Africa and Rwanda following the apartheid reign and the massacre of nearly a million citizens. These countries established truth and reconciliation commissions to establish the true facts and to restore peace between peoples who had warred with each other. Our country is not so different in terms of the need for peace, but in our case the law has always been used to convict and condemn. It is my hope to develop an outreach for serious individuals who want to deal in the currency of truth and reconcile with those that they have offended. It might seem like a fairy tale, but I believe that it can happen, it will happen. One person at a time.
The government has no role in this process, it is a person to person engagement focused upon healing and restoring what has been lost to the best of our own abilities. Sometimes that only thing that we can bring to the table is the truth, that may be painful and revealing, but if that is what you have bring it to the table and lets work together toward establishing community based linkages to wounded families. One small unnoticed act at a time, we can change the mindlessness of a justice system based upon the twin goals of retribution and punishment. This then becomes our shared legacy which we leave to the next generation to follow. If this proposal interests you write directly without discussing your case factors. We will put our heads together and come up with a plan to make this happen. If your goal is to manipulate this effort to your own advantage, please do not engage with this process. This initiative is developed for those who truly want to change their own small part of the world through truth and reconciliation. I know from the letters that I have received that some prisoners have already entertained these ideas and have expressed a desire to make this work.
You know your heart better than anyone else. In the privacy of your own thoughts, you know your regrets and the things you would change if you could. Dismas Project wants to become the vehicle to bring a new awareness into existence. Truth and reconciliation is not the same as making atonement for what we have done wrong in our lives. But it is a beginning of a positive process to start restoring what has been lost to the best of our individual abilities. It starts with a change of heart, a small desire to set things right. Then it grows into an attitude of service toward others. Out of that shift in attitude our behaviors start to be molded into a new dimension of living. As truth starts to emerge in our lives, the desire for reconciliation grows into a pattern of actions and beliefs.
The example of which I speak is given to us in the story of the Prodigal Son found in the Bible. It is a story which speaks of a father’s unfailing love for his lost son. We are all prodigals….we have all failed the hopes which God our heavenly Father has always had for us. But the story does not end with our personal failures. Because by our own power we are incapable of redeeming ourselves from our past failures and sins. Yet our loving Father is patiently waiting like the Prodigal’s father, for our return to a relationship with Him. It does not matter where we are at this moment in life; whether it is a CEO of a major corporation, the president of the US, or awaiting for an execution date on death row, or dying from some horrible disease afflicting our bodies. He still waits patiently and lovingly for us to come home and embrace His love for us. That is the whole story of the gospel. It is the whole reason for Jesus Christ’s life amongst us. A gateway back into a loving embrace of our Father. As long as you have the breath of life within you, it is not too late to return in a humble encounter with the One who has loved you since before the foundations of the world.
Our worldly vision limits our view of “life” to the short span of years that we define as a lifetime. Yet God’s word teaches us that life is not a reality confined to the days we walk upon this earth. He lovingly tells us that our souls are immortal and that they will exist for all eternity. Either in a loving relationship with Him, or apart from His love. So it is NEVER too late to come to a point of surrender to His love. It does not matter what your sins or failures have been. He has promised to forgive them if we truly seek Him. Would you exchange an eternity without the One who loves you, just to hang onto the belief that you are alone and without help? Do you really want to be alone and isolated? If your heartfelt answer is no, then join me in moving forward by seeking out His truth in our lives. Then let us find the personal courage to live out that truth in the days that still lay before us. What we have been cannot limit what we can become in His loving care for us. Truth is like a sword, it can smash the chains that bind us to the past. There is the certainty of restoration and reconciliation if we seek Him in an act of humble surrender. These are not things that I can do for myself, but if WE pull together as a family, we can help one another to move forward in His loving care.
Society expects nothing from offenders, especially death row prisoners. But we share a profound potential to come together in creating a witness of what God can do in surrendered lives. He is waiting your act of personal surrender so that like the Prodigal’s Father, He can welcome us back into a relationship of love and usefulness. We become filled with a new purpose as we see His ability to work through all of the circumstances of our lives to His honor and glory. After all wouldn’t it take a divine act on the part of a Supreme Being to give meaning to the wreckage of the lives we have lived up until now? We are not without hope, nor are we without resources. We each can reach out and tap into His great love and promises for our own lives. These are not past promises for a people long gone. They are promises for us…here and now. His word is alive and seeks to fill us with meaning and purpose in the days remaining in our lives.
So my dear brothers and sisters, let us come together and start to grasp what has been freely offered to us. Let us start to see ourselves as He sees us now…today….in all of our regrets and shamefulness. He sees us as having infinite worth and promises to help us if we will just put out our hands and ask for His help. The reason that I say He sees us as having infinite worth, is based upon His provision for our salvation. That provision is found in His son, Jesus Christ who lived a sinless life and paid the eternal consequences for all of our sins and failures. If another person volunteered to take your place in the execution chamber or serve your prison sentence, would you insist on doing it yourself…..or would you accept the loving offer of the One who came to take you sins, guilt and failures upon Himself? Some of us would feel so badly about our actions we would have reluctance about letting another pay for our crimes. But most prisoners would experience an unbelievable sense of wonder and relief that we had been spared the ultimate penalty for our own unlawful behaviors. That is what a relationship with Jesus Christ is all about!!!!!!
He is our eternal substitute. He stepped up to the plate and said I will pay the price for these sins and crimes. Will you accept His offer to redeem you from the consequences of your past behaviors? This is really a call to your spirit. To the place that you live deep within your mind and soul. It is a call to become a family. To create a family committed to truth and reconciliation. A family is a place of acceptance and unconditional love. A family is that table where you are always welcomed as an equal participant. Your place in marked as permanently waiting for you. You have no need to offer an explanation or reason for who you are or what you have done. Your value is based upon your existence as a member of the family. You know that you are loved, so there is no need to posture or act out behaviorally to get the attention of those around you. When you show up it brings a smile of joy to everyone present and the hope of hearing about your latest struggles, challenges, joys and happiness. There is no qualification criteria. Just the fact that you belong to a family is enough to be fully accepted. There is true joy in being one of the family.
You and I are in the unique position of being able to create something that has never existed before; a family of men and women who have been totally rejected by society, but deeply loved by God. A place where no one has to explain their past behaviors, since we are all seated amongst equals. Do you think it is far-fetched to create such a family? Well tell me your thoughts and ideas in a letter. I want to know what it would take to get you to embrace a new family and to allow them to embrace you. A family is also a place where you do not go through life alone or excluded. We all have talents, skills and abilities which are useful to others. A family is a place to share those assets freely with others and to freely receive from others whatever you are need in turn. In a true family there is no need of selfish behaviors since everyone wants to help others as they themselves are being helped in return. How long has it been since you truly had the embracing love of a family? For some this kind of loving acceptance has never been known in their lives before….for others it has been a long, long time since you have felt that joy in your heart. Now is a time for us to create something that has never existed before. And even in open society there are few families who share this kind of affection and concern for every other member.
We have an obligation to others who will follow, to create something that the world has never seen before. We have an opportunity to live out our days in a meaningful and respectful dialogue. I am not a religious man. I am a spiritual man who deeply believes that we are to treat others as we want to be treated. I do not engage in disputes over dogma or doctrine, I leave that to our religious friends. My focus is in living out the words of Jesus Christ when He spoke of three distinct life concepts: Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness. If I am focused on how these blessings impact my own life and I am busy trying to find ways to freely pass them onto others, then I have no time or energy left to devote to denominational arguments or religiously based differences between us. I am committed to put His words into practice in my life, by attempting to understand what mercy, grace and forgiveness really means to me. Then I am free to pass those gifts along to others in the same ways I have received them. That is my personal commitment to Jesus Christ because of the love that has been poured out into my own life.
Dismas project has been set up to create a movement that brings those realities into the lives of others. We do this one letter at a time, one phone call from a distraught family member at a time, one book at a time, one TV or radio appearance at a time and one workshop or family meeting at a time. As we do the basis services, the network of those who have been blessed continues to grow and in turn we at Dismas Project are also blest. One thing that I know, you and I can never out-give God. He will never be indebted to any man. God has NO creditors. So dear brothers and sisters there is great potential in what I have suggested for your consideration. A new family, a chosen family, something that the world has never seen before, coming together to support each other in the bleakest of conditions. A family committed to changing the world through the principles of truth and reconciliation. And in taking this modest step, we together start to change the world in which we live. It is a bold notions, but a thoroughly practical idea. The only thing that can hold us back from success is selfishness, self-centeredness and fear. Therefore these are our personal enemies and they will ALWAYS rise up in unsuspected thoughts that tell us this idea will never work.
But dear brothers and sisters you no longer have to live powerless lives in isolation cells. Now you can take a small step to make an idea come alive. It comes alive because of your faith in your ability to contribute a small piece of yourself to a vast spiritual effort. Together we are like a scattered flock of sheep waiting for the wolves of life to descend on us individually and extinguish our lives. Together we make up an exceptionally strong body of fellows sharing unique and common experiences. Have you ever heard the old saying that there is strength in numbers? As for me, I have already made up my mind that I will not go into that long dark night silently. No, I will look forward to my personal redemption eagerly, while doing all that I can to bear out the truth of His message of love for each of us. Now you are left to question whether you are willing to commit your voice and your efforts to developing a family fellowship unlike any other that has ever existed before upon this earth.
While I do not know each of you personally, I do know that each of you has very private and intense feelings about your lives and the lives of your family members. We are not a powerless and helpless lot. In becoming a family we can draw strength from each other and serve to guide those who will come after us. Yes it is sad but true, there will be others who will come into the cells we leave behind through anger, ignorance, greed, lust, pride and envy. We can bequeath a rich heritage of experience and deep spiritual understanding that will help to shape the world to come, at the same time that we add an air of richness to our own personal life experiences. Your personal legacy is what you leave behind you in the lives of others. You heritage are the worldly possessions that you pass onto to others. My challenge to you is that you leave behind a legacy irreversibly written into the lives of others. You do that by giving freely of yourself and grasping a new understanding of your own personal choices. As you reach out to make those choices your own, you will be joining others in a new fellowship of men and women who have chosen truth and reconciliation over fear, failure and defeat. Will you join me on this road as we create a new vision for the world? We are not doing this for publicity, but rather to change our tiny part of the world and impact the lives of others for good. But I promise you that your personal efforts, joined together with our fellows will serve as a bright examples to the world at large. It is a momentous task which lays ahead of us, but one that is worthy of all of our energy and efforts.
A Prayer for Truth and Reconciliation
Lord, You know my deepest failings and sins, You know all about my personal failures and crimes against others, but especially against You. My life has been consumed with personal defeats and failures, but even now I believe that You are willing to forgive me and have mercy upon me and my family members. Lord I am not an individual given to a deep understanding of Your words. But I do believe You when you say that You will never turn me away if I come and truly seek You. Your word says that You will never leave me nor abandon me. I come now and ask Your for Your forgiveness for all the wrong and harm that I have committed in my life. I believe that Your word is true and that You will show me mercy by your very words. Please come and live in my heart and abide with me from this day forward. Amen.
Stay strong and be blessed, (Happy Thanksgiving)
Kevin J. McCarthy