September 20, 2016: Home Court
I didn’t think being stung by a caterpillar would be my least painful experience of the day until I answered my cell phone and heard my daughter crying.
Does a mother’s heartbeat ever return to normal after her child calls in distress?
I listened helplessly as she struggled through sobs to explain how an intruder had pillaged her college apartment. Along with the precious trinkets stripped from her room, he stole any shred of feeling secure.
After notifying the police, the news spread on social media which led to the man’s identification and eventual arrest.
January 24, 2017: District Court
I sat in the courtroom with my daughter and her roommates; we lined up on a hardwood bench waiting our turn.
Offenders entered the room wearing bright orange jumpsuits and matching rubber shoes. The shackles at their ankles and wrists caused them to struggle as they approached the judge’s bench. The proceedings were busy and noisy. Whispered lawyer lingo led to signed documents that sealed the terms of agreements before the criminals left to serve those terms.
Rudy, like the other offenders, struggled to approach the bench too. The hands and feet once used to trespass and plunder were bound with chains, no longer free to go and do as they pleased.
As he entered, he made no eye contact with anyone in the courtroom. But his was the face we waited to see. Before us and the judge stood the man who decided it was ok to enter my daughter’s apartment and steal her few earthly treasures– gifts given in honor of her high school graduation– the most precious things he could have taken.
Rudy wasn’t your typical thief. He wasn’t a violent offender, either. We will be forever grateful for that, since he awakened one of the roommates during his intrusion and could have seriously harmed her, but didn’t.
Unlike most perpetrators, Rudy was vocal about his name; he shared it with whom he came in contact. Upon discovering the awakened roommate, he turned around, left her room, and pretended to talk on his cell phone–telling “Angie” he couldn’t find her. If he entered a house when people were present, he pretended he was delivering flowers to “Angie.” After being told he was in the wrong place, he would quickly leave. No one suspected a thing; everyone thought he simply made a mistake.
When presented before the judge, Rudy’s lawyers explained the charges and informed him of his plea options. The judge agreed to give him time to make his decision; he was given a new court date and led away.
A quick glance around the courtroom quickened my sense of compassion for anyone involved in the life of each offender we saw. Rudy was just one of the many criminals–on that particular day– who faced consequences for their actions. Each offender inflicted pain upon their victim and their own family and deserved punishment for their crimes.
As I observed the families of the offenders who were present, I felt an urgent need to pray for them.
I prayed for peace for the mother across the aisle when her shackled daughter–about the same age as mine– entered the room and entered her plea. Twice she turned toward her mother and mouthed, “It’s okay.” I prayed for comfort for the mother in front of me when her son appeared before the judge. Her presence showed her support; her disappointed expression showed her heartache. One by one, many entered and exited, and I continued to pray.
I fervently prayed for Rudy. Our family sought justice for our daughter and her friends that day but also wanted him to receive the help needed to release him from his bondage to chemical dependence and find the Deliverer who can truly set him free.
To witness the stream of broken stories flowing through a courtroom was eye-opening and humbling. Sharing the common thread of hopelessness, criminals see no need to respect authority, other people or themselves. While I sat in the courtroom trying to imagine a life void of hope, I thanked God we were not present for something tragic, violent, or heinous, because I could see from the responses in the room that it doesn’t matter to a hopeless person what becomes of their lives or the lives of others.
Living hopeless is like a dead soul shackled and imprisoned in a living body. Without hope, we are all dead men walking.
Jesus holds the master-key that unshackles hopelessness. He brings the dead to life through His expert testimony in Scriptures in which He says, “ I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6, NIV).
His way, His truth, and His life restores hope. Christ wants to free all of us from the chains that bind us. He wants to free our children from any feelings of despair- from anything holding them captive. His way, His truth, and His life will lead them out of the darkness of their bondage into the light of His freedom.
Jesus knows each of our situations–what we’re going through with our own children. He cares more deeply than we can ever imagine–It makes no difference to Him if our child is in a courtroom, prison cell, drug rehab, or wallowing in a pig pen–Jesus is the key to their return to us and to Him.
March 27, 2017: Circuit Court
I wrote a note to Rudy hoping his attorney would deliver it to him in private.
When I handed it to the Commonwealth’s Attorney, she asked if I wanted to read it in court. I said, “No, thank you.” She understood my hesitation.
I sat alone and listened as criminals received punishments for their law-breaking activities. I prayed for them to meet Jesus so their lives would be changed.
Like the sign behind him, the judge dispensed wisdom, justice, and mercy to each offender he addressed. He also showed kindness and compassion to those who struggled to understand the penalties they incurred.
After a long morning and a short recess, Rudy entered the courtroom dressed and shackled like the last time I saw him. The judge asked if there were any victims present. I raised my hand and spoke my name. He thanked me for being present.
The judge then methodically explained the charges to which Rudy pled guilty. The punishment imposed-2.5 years in State Penitentiary-fit the crime. The judge discussed the terms of restitution as well, and Rudy testified he would repay.
My heart raced when the Commonwealth’s Attorney stated she would read my victim’s statement aloud. That was not my intention for the note I scribbled earlier in the hotel room. But she proceeded to share my words and my name anyway. It was hard to breathe.
When she finished, the judge told Rudy to stand, and informed him he had the right to say something. He choked out, “ I want to thank the Crews family for their forgiveness.” I sat stunned in disbelief. And when he turned to leave with the officer, he looked me in the eyes and mouthed, “Thank you.” I nodded and smiled. I cried and prayed.
I thanked God for the power of forgiveness-not only because of the freedom I felt surging through every cell of my body (and spilling out of my eyes), but also for the powerful potential it had to work in the shackled heart of this lost young man.
All of us live under the influence of something or someone.
What chains are binding you or a loved one? Is there a “Rudy” in your life who needs to hear the powerful words of forgiveness?
While we wait, we have an opportunity to ask for freedom for those held captive. Those who are bound by chains need the Deliverer, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the only One who can set them completely free.
Waiting with you,