A defining tenet of Christianity, which most Barbadians profess to practise in some way, is forgiveness. Nowhere is this quality more powerfully demonstrated than when Jesus, as he was humiliatingly suffering on the cross ahead of his death, pleaded on behalf of his killers: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
For most people, forgiving and moving on are easier said than done.
The natural human tendency pushes us to seek revenge against persons who commit grievous wrongs against us. Sometimes this pursuit can become such an obsession that the victim only inflicts more psychological pain on himself or herself than what either has already suffered.
The 16th century English philosopher, jurist and statesman Sir Francis Bacon drew attention to this when he observed: “This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge keeps his wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well.”
Aren’t we doing the same to ourselves through our unyielding reluctance to forgive and our obsession with revenge, especially in relation to former convicts asking for a second chance?
As much as we loathe the hurtful and despicable acts some criminals commit, these offenders are still human beings like the rest of us, made in the image of God, with an inherent capacity to do good, and deserving of mercy, compassion and forgiveness. Lest anyone dons a cloak of self-righteousness on this issue, the Apostle Paul reminds us: “All have sinned and fall short of
the glory of God.”
Barbados is too harsh and unforgiving a society, sometimes even on and of ourselves. Mainstream public opinion basically holds that anyone who engages in crime, especially the serious type, should be made to pay for the rest of his or her life, even though the person may have served an appropriate sentence determined by the law courts, repaid his or her debt to society and become qualified for re-entry into society.
What is unfortunately overlooked is that these persons may have undergone full rehabilitation during their time in prison and are changed individuals. We are not playing down the deleterious effect of crime, nor are we advocating that society should go soft in dealing with offenders. Crime must be punished; but after punishment, offenders are deserving of a second chance once they demonstrate a fundamental change in attitude and behaviour through rehabilitation.
Last Friday, we carried the story of a former Dodds inmate who related the challenges which former prisoners experienced on their re-entry into society and in their efforts to rebuild their lives.
“Everybody makes mistakes. And how can a man be able to prove himself if he is not given a chance?” he asked.
His comments followed harsh public criticism of the decision to release two high-profile convicted killers who had served lengthy prison sentences for their heinous crimes.
Luckily for this former inmate, his reintegration was made easier by the support of relatives and friends, a privilege many ex-cons do not enjoy. Faced with the lack of a support system and harsh hostility from society, many return to a life of crime and some eventually end up at Dodds once again. This speaks to a human tragedy because all people, regardless of who they are, are important in the sight of the God most of us worship in church on Sundays.
Ex-cons are deserving, following their release from prison, of at least an opportunity to prove they have changed and are genuine about travelling along the straight and narrow path. In the first instance, criminals are not born; they are made. They are the product of social influences to which they were exposed, especially during the impressionable childhood and teenage years, both within the home and wider community.
What makes the difference, however, is when persons are exposed in their social interactions to positive values which are continuously reinforced, and are also taught the difference between right and wrong. Which emphasizes the need for good parenting in the home and positive role models in the society who give encouragement to young persons and lead exemplary lives that qualify them to be regarded as role models.
Our churches have a big role to play in teaching our people about the value of forgiveness and changing the current mindset. In an effectiveness demonstration of the love of Christ for the outcast, they can pool resources and come up with a major support programme to assist former inmates to have a smooth reintegration into society. It is their divine assignment.
If we are unable to extend forgiveness to others when they fall short, how can we genuinely expect forgiveness from God when we too fall short every day? As a Christian society, we must not only be hearers of the Word but also, more importantly, doers of the Word.