The door swings open, and I follow the young Victim Services Advocate into the parole hearing room. She’s young and pregnant with her first baby, a girl she said, after she realized it was okay to talk about everyday things with me. She had to keep me separate, in a small conference room with windows and a water cooler until the hearing began and there was not much to say although she warned me that I would hear details of my son’s murder.
David’s family and “supporters” are separated to the right of the wood paneled room, watching me enter. A rail runs down the middle of the seats that face the parole board, and I am ushered to the left, where I sit flanked by the nice advocate. I notice a large man with a square-shaped head, thick ruddy features, like he’s from Southie. He blocks the door, actually fills the door, then I look to the left and see three more guards, wearing sweaters, to look less threatening is my guess, but you can see the bulge around the belt from weapons and walkie talkies.
I lean back in my seat, to wave at David’s family. I had spoken to his mom for the first time ever, two nights ago. She called, nervous. “I was scared to call you – I felt ashamed.” When you touch murder, no matter which side you stand on, you get dirty. It has been 17 and a half years since we were all changed in some horrific way. I remembered watching David’s mom at his trial, the angry footsteps, the voice shrill and desperate. Then the father, slumped over on a bench outside the courtroom, the loss bearing down. I had my own pain, a demanding, consuming house-guest I could not shake. I had been treading just above the rising current of a dark and violent nightmare for over a year and i was exhausted. My son was dead, the innocent victim of a senseless murder. There was little else I could think about then.
David and Rodolfo, another teenager charged with Spencer’s murder, pled guilty to Second Degree murder. They had just watched their friend get sent away for life without parole and decided a guilty plea to a lesser charge was safer. They stood shackled, facing me, as I told them I forgave them. It probably didn’t count for much at that moment. Twenty years. That meant their whole life then – two boys from Cape Cod headed to a maximum state prison. Survival might’ve mattered more. I was numb with grief; my forgiveness was a reflex, an act of obedience I never questioned or pieced apart. I would not have had the strength or mental acuity. I just obeyed the same Jesus who forgave me.
The door on the opposite side of the room opened and more guards, then David wearing a crisp blue shirt with a tie and khaki pants. He was shackled, hands and feet. He told me he would be shackled and unable to look at me when we talked the week before. His father’s hair was white now, and his mother wasn’t angry anymore, but had the soft worry lines that carve across a mother’s heart. His sister tried to walk over to my side, to hug me, but was instantly blocked by two guards and I had to remember that a parole room is often a place of visceral and sudden rage. But today, God was there. He was Hope to the convict’s family, Salvation to the soul of the young man shackled. He was there to open the eyes of those who could not see.
I had five minutes to speak, the only voice of the Victim’s side of the hearing, but I spoke for Spencer’s family, and for Spencer too. I said we forgive, I said let God continue to use the ground where Spencer fell, bringing forth life from death. Redemption – only He can do this. I couldn’t see anyone except for the parole board, but I could feel my words finding a place to settle in each heart. When I stood to go back to my seat, I noticed the big square guard had become very animated. He was nodding his head at me, then he winked. A minute later, he gave a thumbs up. I could see the side of David’s face and it was wet from tears.
I was ushered back out as the Victim Advocate spoke to more guards on her walkie-talkie and then was led down the stairs. The big guard followed closely and waited as I checked out at the window on the ground floor.
“I’ve worked here for 17 years,” he said, then he paused, searching. “I’ve never heard anything like that.” His eyes looked puffy and wet. He smiled. “You are amazing.”
“No!” I shot back, shaking my head. “I’m not. God is amazing!” Then I noticed an older gentleman to my right, who I had not seen, with thick white neatly combed hair and sparkling clear blue eyes that matched his tie. He was nodding and laughing softly, pointing upward. Then the guard saw him too and said,
“Oh yes! Of course!”
I am not amazing at all. I am Mary Magdalene, or the woman sitting in the dirt, surrounded by outraged men with fists clutching stones as Jesus writes in the sand beside me. “He who is without sin…” Who can stand?
Sometimes people say, “How could you do that? How could you forgive?” Because murderers stand under the same fountain of Grace that I do. The black grime and stain of my sin was not a better or easier sin. It costs Jesus the same price.
Outside the breeze rattles the tired late summer leaves, David’s family and friends gather in a loose circle, relieved, breathing in hope and the sweet cool morning air. I hug some more people then leave, relieved to be alone. I have an hour before Rodolfo’s hearing and I have to eat.
I pick a small table at Wendy’s with the most sunlight streaking across the top and open up my salad and chili, thinking about the parole hearing, how God has again kept me and I’m grateful, so very grateful.
He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. Psalm 91:4
The tables around me fill with office workers, sales clerks, old men who eat slow and look out the window and a young mother with a stern voice and small children who don’t pay attention. I thought of the pregnant Victim Advocate – how her life would change soon and it would be a good thing to be away from the violence, the outrage, the wounds that never heal.
Then I thought of the little man with the blue eyes, almost turquoise it seemed and how they danced. He never spoke, I realized; he didn’t have to.
I wonder if he was an angel…I thought as I finished my lunch and got up to leave, to head back to the Massachusetts Parole Board. It would not surprise me one bit. He was a spark of Joy in the midst of an endless sorrow, pointing to Christ, the true Advocate – the One who sits on both sides of the rail. I am not at all amazing, but my Jesus surely is.
Beautiful song by Selah : There Is a Fountain