Church of the Brethren
Rachel Gross, Director
P.O. Box 600
Liberty Mills, IN 46946


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DRSP News, Issue 21, February 2018

By Jay DePoy, Guest Writer

This month's DRSP News was written by Jay DePoy of Grand Rapids, Michigan, addressing the challenge some feel when they learn about the crime their pen pal committed. As we mention on our website in FAQ #4, one of the purposes of DRSP is to learn to know those on death row apart from the crimes they committed.

I signed up to become a pen pal with the Death Row Support Project because it sounded exciting and romantic. Writing a letter from a thousand miles away allowed for concrete boundaries, and as long as I didn't have to invite these inmates to my own kitchen table, then I would be safe.

I sent my first letter with gusto! It was showered with flowery words about love and forgiveness and grace and God having a plan and some glad morning we'll all fly away. I patted myself on the back, and considered it my offering for the month.

And then I got my first letter back. My assigned pen pal was angry at the system. It was everybody else's fault. And when I googled his story, I wanted to throw up for the following two reasons:

My first impulse was disgust. The more I learned about the details of his crime, the less interested I became in sharing the good news of God's unconditional love. In my opinion, the offense committed seemed to transcend comprehension. I couldn't imagine this guy sitting next to me at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb! I had a very difficult time spitting out two paragraphs. It was like a Nicholas Sparks novel with Alfred Hitchcock undertones. The plot twisted right into my conscience…

My second impulse was conviction. I realized how quickly I had become the Pharisee, in a parable that exposed my hypocrisy. I began to weep bitterly as I was reminded of my own spiritual journey. How many times had I professed an allegiance to a grace that I did not possess?

Ten years ago, I was on a self-destructive rampage of my own. I had once been heralded as the visionary leader in a thriving young church. I gave sermons about God's love with fiery passion. But then I began to spiral into a deep depression, and began to compromise my own spiritual health. I faded into a fog of introversion and self-hatred, hurting many people along the way. My fall from vocational ministry actually landed me in jail. My story was all over the local media, and I became suicidal.

When I was an inmate, the only comfort that I found was in the friendship extended to me in the form of my bunkmate. When I felt like I had been abandoned by God and the Church, he shared his possessions with me. He encouraged me to look out the windows and believe that spring was coming soon. Although we all shared nicknames in jail, it wasn't until the day of his release that I heard his name announced over the intercom: "Immanuel." He was indeed God with me.

I believe in the Death Row Support Project, not because of an allegiance to a political ideology, but because I’m learning what my Rabbi meant when he said, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

Many thanks to Jay for sharing his story with us. May we all show mercy as we reach out to those who have been condemned to die by the state.

Coming next month: a report from Dina Milito about her time in Texas with Thomas Whitaker.

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