“If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” (Jesus)
My college roommate and best friend at the time murdered her husband on Valentine’s Day, 1998. Even though it was a famous and well-publicized murder, I never knew until recently that she was serving a life sentence in a Maryland correctional facility. We had spoken just a couple of years prior to the murder, but we lost touch, mostly because we had both moved and it was before social media (snail mail just didn’t cut it in those days).
Fast-forward to this past January when I spoke at a women’s group telling the story of my continuing redemption and restoration. I hadn’t thought of this friend for several years, but some things that we shared (not such good things) were a huge part of my redemption story and I shared them with this group. Just FIVE days later, I commented on a friend’s Facebook post and received a quick response, “Are you the Esther Maret that roomed with Kim Aungst in college?” I recognized her as Kim’s high school friend, Rachelle. Quickly, I private messaged her and said yes. I couldn’t believe Kim’s name was coming up again. I asked if she was still in touch and how I could reach her.
Her next message: “As for Kim, we are still friends but it is a long, sad, crazy story. She was convicted in 1999 of killing her husband. If you Google Kimberly Hricko, you can see part of the story. (I know some of you are clicking… don’t forget that you are reading what the media wants you to know and don’t forget to come back!!!) At first I wasn’t sure if she did it but she has since admitted she did. I am pretty much the only friend from that period of her life that stood by her. I just felt that regardless of what she did, she needed someone. She has since turned herself to Jesus and is helping others in prison. She has a daughter who I kept in touch with. She was like a niece to me. She is married and has a daughter.”
A few more messages were exchanged. My body started to tingle all over. I was overwhelmed at the heart of Rachelle who had unconditionally loved Kim, but my mind went to how this could have happened. Two young girls sharing a dorm room at a Christian college. Best friends. The transfer after freshman year to separate schools. One goes on to marry, raise a family and do normal things (that would be me). The other kills her husband and is in jail for life. I spent the better part of a week sorting through my feelings and decided to write her a letter, convinced that God had brought her back into my life. Would she respond?
Mustering the courage to tell Kim that my heart was broken for her and that I wanted to see her, I penned a short letter, enclosing a picture of our family, telling her bits about myself, promising not to judge her, explaining that I just wanted to be hear her story and be her friend again.
It took weeks to get a reply (snail mail in jail is extremely snailish). She wanted to see me. Relief washed over me. I met with Rachelle for breakfast and spent the better half of the morning getting reaquainted, sharing the stories of our lives and making a plan to go see Kim together.
That happened this past Thursday. A four-hour trip to Jessup, Maryland (Rachelle almost not getting in because of bra hooks that set off the metal detector), a one-hour visit with smiles, stories, and quick hugs, and a four-hour trip home.
Early Thursday morning, I prayed that I would bring healing and restoration to Kim and that I would (wait for it…okay, it’s hard for me) listen, listen, listen. But, of course, God had something else up his sleeve.
The moment I saw her sitting in the visiting room at the sterile table, my heart leapt for joy. As we spoke, she was the same Kim: kind, funny, smart, interesting and my friend. The three of us spoke for the hour, reminiscing, sharing stories of ourselves, our thoughts, our families, and she shared about life in prison. It was fascinating, to say the least. Here are little glimpses of her life:
- She works and makes $3.45 a day as a layout engineer using CAD software. She designs office space for municipalities and has even done some dorm layouts for the University of Maryland.
- She has to buy all her own toiletries. Tide Pods are $6.99 for a small box.
- She lives in the most privileged section of the prison because of good behavior. She has a TV (with an old antenna) and a DVD player. She has seen reruns of the TV shows where she is featured countless times.
- She has a pet cat named Lynn. The local shelter has partnered with the prison to allow inmates to care for a dog or a cat which goes with them to freedom if and when they get out. (litter box right in the cell)
- She started a book club (that has now spread to three or four other prisons) where college professors come and teach. Her favorite book is Life of Pi.
- She speaks to victims’ families and allows them to ask her any question. This is designed to bring understanding and the potential for forgiveness and healing.
The story of her heart was even more fascinating. She has come to the place where she has taken ownership, admitted guilt, and sought ways to contact her husband’s family to ask for forgiveness. She has hope that (and it would truly be a miracle) one day there might be some kind of healing between them.
I was confused and amazed as to how she had gotten to this place. How had she worked through all the shame and guilt. I mean this is big stuff. Like huge stuff. Way out of my league stuff. Why is she okay? And not just okay. She actually used the word “blessed.” I received a little peak at part of the answer.
We spoke about how God’s heart is NOT for retribution, but for restoration. His desire is not to punish her, but to redeem her (or any of us for that matter). She knows this life-changing truth at the core of her soul. He loves her no matter what she has done. He is restoring her. Not to freedom on the outside (both literally and figuratively), but to freedom on the inside (both literally and figuratively). WOW! Just WOW!
It all hit me like a tons of bricks: this is why Jesus came. Freedom for the prisoners (Luke 4:18). Not the outside kind, but the inside kind. And no circumstance or failure (even premeditated murder) or brokenness is too much for Him. He doesn’t discard anyone. He never sees anyone as beyond hope. He can free anyone, even normal me. This is His main business.
I prayed very differently on Thursday night. This time it was not that I would bring healing to Kim, but thanksgiving that she had brought a little more healing, freedom and restoration that day to little old me! Surprise!
(By the way, I received her permission to share all of this.)