I was a regular visitor to death at the Washington State Penitentiary with permission from the Warden. I was in my early twenties. I visited most often with a prisoner named Joe Cerny and a young biker named Miles Music. Joe had killed two elderly women for their purses. He was a heroin addict and in need of a fix The murders weren’t even remembered by him. But he affirmed he had killed the women. Joe had been on death row for ten years before I met him.
Miles was a biker who was driving down the streets of Seattle and saw a high school student with a leather jacket that he wanted. He turned his bike around and lunged up on the side walk and shouted I want the coat. The student refused and Music pulled a pistol out and shot him in the back of the head, got off his bike and took the coat.
There was one other death row inmate I met with a couple times. I don’t remember his name after so many years but I do remember he killed his dad over some money he felt he had coming. He had tried to burn up his dad’s body after he stabbed him but the neighbors saw him. He got the death penalty.
Miles never really took to the message of Jesus. He loved talking. And it was an experience caring on a conversation with him. He looked a bit like Charles Manson. He had a swastika carved into the right side of his forehead. And had a gold tooth right in the front with a swastika engraved on it. His eyes looked like just behind them was the pit of hell. I never felt particularly unsafe with him. But I was glad he was behind bars.
Joe did take to the message of Jesus. And I believe to this day he truly experienced salvation through receiving Jesus as his Messiah. I monthly took Joe through Bible Studies. And we exchanged letters as his faith developed. We both thought he had maybe two years at most to live before he would be executed. He never was.
In fact the memory of Joe is one of the most painful memories I have as a Christian.
We were prohibited from meeting further. The death penalty was being debated at the time. And in fact within a couple years was overthrown in the State of Washington. It was however reinstated approximately a decade latter. Our pastor came out publicly for the death penalty on a biblical basis. The prisoners heard of this and it just wasn’t safe for us to return to the prison again. Joe and I wrote of and on and eventually he struck up a sound relationship with the chaplain there and we went our separate ways.
Joe was eventually freed from prison in the mid-nineties of the last century. By that time I was leading a very large church we had planted in Seattle. And as soon as he was released he moved back to Seattle. And then he sought me out after one of our services. I was so stunned to see him my responses were less than what I believe about life. It struck me they have released a murderer and he is in my church. Fear took over with regard to having Joe within the church and I turned cold. Nice but not warm. He never returned. And days latter i tried to find him to seek forgiveness and connect with him. I have to this day prayed often for Joe that my sin would not give him reason to not follow Christ. He was a little child I offended and I was looking for the milestone to put around my neck.
All that to say I oppose the death penalty. I think the less violence that is officially allowed by the state the more civil the society is. I also hold out that any violence is always bad for the earth and societies. I have been in Haiti and seen the missing hands of suspected thieves. And it didn’t make me feel any safer with my stuff. As far as I could see human life was lowered in its value with the loss of each limb.
The death penalty shows no statistical evidence of inhibiting the number of murders. Nor did the prohibition of the death penalty reduce the number of murders. Today we have mass killings. And any reasonable person can deduce that banning guns isn’t going to do any significant change than having or not having the death penalty has.
I think there is a possible tie between violence in media and mass killings. I think we need to dislike violence much ore than we do. But for me the real issue that leaves us all dangerous is our inability to institutionalize the mentally ill. I have always viewed Ronald Reagan as a hero. But when he emptied the mental institutions we assured ourselves of streets full of those living on grates. Schizophrenic and psychotic people are often dangerous. Often they are not. But having worked in the people helping business for nearly fifty years I have seen the mentally ill often being a danger to themselves and others.
In the name of freedom and personal rights we have forced tormented minds to live on the streets and at times turn on us. Nearly all mass killers can show evidence to have been one of three things. One, mentally ill and psychotic. Two, caught up in the violence of Hollywood and the gaming industry. Or, follows of violent Islam. A faith that needs to be confronted and challenged for what it has spread wherever it goes.
I am a romantic and always think of the guy who was on death row or prison who wasn’t guilty. Getting it wrong just one time is too big a risk. You can’t take the death penalty back once it is used. And I absolutely believe Jesus teachings would not endorse the death penalty even in the name of justice.