Posted in Freedom, God, Hope, Love, Murder, Prison, Taboo

A Letter from Prison and a Journey to Freedom

“Inner slavery is even worse than outward slavery.  Inner freedom is even better than outward freedom.”  (Kathryn Lindskoog)

By the amount of sheer clicks and views on my post about my friend Kim who killed her husband, I know many of you read her story a few weeks ago.  (If you didn’t, check it out here first before going ahead, but don’t forget to come back.)  I was thrilled that I received views, but somewhere inside me I knew that it was partly because of the mind-boggling nature of the post.  I would have clicked as well just out of curiosity.  Today, however, I hope that even if you did come again to quench the thirst of an inquisitive mind, you will find a greater satisfaction for your spirit.

My friend Kim and I have become pen pals.  Snail mail is a slow process, especially with prisoners, because all mail is opened and read before reaching the other person.  It can take about two weeks from penning the letter to the opening and reading of it on the other end.  In a world where immediate communication is just a text, email or phone call away, this has been an exercise for me in carefully thought-out words on paper and eager anticipation of a reply as I wait patiently for up to a month to hear back.

My second letter came about two weeks ago.  It was the first since visiting her in prison.  I had written her a long letter and sent her a copy of the blog post I had written about her.  She was responding.  As I read the letter, I began to weep with joy over the words that came flowing off the paper.  It was as if I was perusing something straight out of the best book I had ever read, where wrong is made right and goodness wins over evil, something my soul longs for at the very core of it.

Two girls in a dorm room, sharing secrets and dreams late at night while the campus goes to sleep.  Two massively different external stories.  One girl goes on to raise a “normal” family and live a typical American life.  The other kills her husband and heads to prison for 20+ years.  What could we possibly have in common 30+ years later?

Kim writes…  (Get a cup of coffee.  Sit back.  Don’t skim.  Go slowly.  Breathe her deep wisdom into your soul.)

“Your blog entry was poignant.  Wow.  I never thought of my story as inspirational.  I’m not talking about the salacious, media version of my crime.  I mean my story, the one that had yet to be told.  I believe that those truths needed to be told so that my victims would no longer have questions.  I owed truth to them, to my family, to my friends and to the larger community.  I believe that keeping the truth inside of me all that time was in essence a kind of theft.  The truth is all I have to give and I needed to give it.

Telling the truth is hard.  Especially to someone who is out of practice like me.  I kept many secrets for many years and it made me hollow and dead on my inside.  I lived like that while looking perfectly normal on my outside.  Telling those truths was beyond scary to me.  I thought I would lose every single person that loved me, family included.  But God moved in my life and opened doors for me, giving me a safe place and way to finally speak.  Yes, there was real risk of rejection, but I knew it was the right thing to do.  It was the only thing to do.

In prison, there aren’t many safe places to tell the truth.  Information that can be used to hurt someone is power.  So we hold our power inside as a kind of protection.  Sometimes, we don’t even admit the truth to ourselves because we can’t bear to look directly at what we’ve done.  That was definitely true for me.  I wanted to speak, but how?  To whom?  Where should I start?

My objective was to find a way to reach out to my husband’s family.  I was not seeking forgiveness.  I would not dare to ask that.  I have no right to it.  Forgiveness is a gift that heals and releases the giver.  The decision to forgive (or not) is sacred.  I wanted to give them the opportunity to hear truth and to respond however they want.  My hope was that my acceptance of responsibility might help them heal.  I knew I had to try.

My father died and I inherited money.  I hired an attorney.  He found something called DIVO (Defense Initiated Victim Outreach).  It is part of the restorative justice movement.  We hired a psychological expert to create an “in-depth profile of me.”  The woman we hired was patient and smart and kind.  She helped me speak out loud not only what I did the night of my crime, but how I got to the point where I believed that killing my husband was the only answer.  She helped me understand what I could not understand on my own.  She peeled off the layers of self-hate to uncover the complicated mess underneath.  It was painful and horrible and a blessing.

In 2010, I took a class called VOICE (Victim Offender Impact Class Education).  In that class, we heard many stories of victims and how the crimes impacted their lives.  At the end, we were encouraged to write a letter to our own victims.  These letters are kept in a file that victims can access.  They told us that a letter would be sent to our victims telling them the letter was on file.  So I wrote.  I do not know if the letter ever reached Steve’s family.

There was still a pull in my heart to do something, anything to express my remorse, to tell my ugly truth to the the people I had harmed.  I joined a group called “Building Bridges.”  The work we do is transformational.  We speak openly to each other about our crimes and our lives that lead up to them.  It was rough, hideous and shocking to say those things and hear them from others.  We then meet with outside guests to tell them those same truths and allow them to ask questions.  The questions are hard to answer, but I do.  I know that doing the uncomfortable thing is good, that God wants to bless the truth.  And He does.

I have alienated people with my truth.  Especially when the truth exposes something awful that was done to me.  One of those secrets I mentioned.  In the end, I have been loved unconditionally, maybe for the first time in my life.  I am lucky in a way that the only kind of love I can get is unconditional.  Only unconditional love can penetrate barbed wire.

Telling the truth has healed me.  I was without the burden of a thousand lies on my back.  I can accept my incarceration with grace and the acknowledgement that I do belong in prison.  I do not believe I will be here for life and God is working.  He has put blessings and opportunities in my path that could have only come from Him.  That is how I know I am on the right path because He is restoring me.  He promises to give back what the moths and locusts have eaten.

Your visit was part of that restoration.  He gave you back to me.  Your friendship is both a blessing and confirmation.  I love you for it and I give all my thanks to God.  He has loved me even when I was unable to love myself.  He never gave up, even when I did.  It is people like you and Rachelle who exemplify Christ when you love someone who is less than perfect, someone who has destroyed her own life, someone who is lonely and in prison.  Someone just like me.”

What do we have in common?  Nothing on the outside, but everything on the inside.

When I first found out about Kim in January, I believed that God had brought her into my life to restore her.  I would be the one ministering to her, loving her.  God is an upside-down God sometimes.  He’s the God of surprises.  He’s the God whose “thoughts and ways are much higher than ours.”  He’s proving it once again.  Kim’s story is redeeming me.  Her wisdom is freeing me.  She believes that God is restoring her through my love.  And she is probably right.  But I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this God of redemption and mercy and unconditional love is bringing further hope and healing to both of us at the same time.  (And now, hopefully to you as well.)

The story of Kim’s crime is interesting and may satisfy your curiosity, but the story of her heart is redemptive and may just satiate a much deeper, needy place in your soul, one that longs for truth and freedom on the inside.  It has mine.

Two girls and two paths that from the outside, look utterly different.  One God.  Two girls and two paths that are wonderfully similar on the inside.  From lying to truth.  From hiding to freedom.  Her story is all of our stories.   The stories of redemption.   May the stories continue.

 

Author:

I am a wife, mom, daughter, women's group leader, sister, marriage mentor, friend, speaker and lover of Jesus.

11 thoughts on “A Letter from Prison and a Journey to Freedom

  1. Thank you Esther and thank you Kim. What is fascinating to me is to notice the lack of curiosity or interest within my own heart in knowing the details of that horrible event all those years ago. As the story of her redemption unfolds my curiosity diminishes to the point of nonexistence. Her story is all of our stories. All of us have been blind but many of us now see. All of us have carried secrets and lies but many of us have now become lovers of truth and tellers of our own secrets. Rejoicing with you both in the sweet story of redemption.

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  2. This is a beautiful reminder of a point that Philip Yancey likes to make. He says something like, “Not everything that happens in our life is going to be seen and felt as good, but with God everything has the potential to become good for us and those around us.” I love that you are sharing your life through this blog! You have this inner bravery and ability to mobilize into action in situations where others would hesitate that I have always respected.

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  3. There are so many things I love about this post that every time I start to comment I get overwhelmed! It’s so incredible and so full of beauty. I will say that for now . . .

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    1. Yes. I keep reading that letter over and over. I can’t wait to see her again soon. I love your thought about looking at things in a different direction. Maybe one of these days, I will meet you, teacherturnedmommy, since my husband commutes weekly to Wexford from NJ. I feel like we are neighbors.

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