I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
From my driveway to the Florida Death Row is 284 miles. Every other month, I make the trip on a Friday night, staying in a tiny hotel in Starke. By 7:30 Saturday morning, I am at the prison gate going through the prescribed rigmarole that finally gets me past six sliding, locked doors into the death house an hour later. I never get used to it – the electrified fences that will kill you instantly should you touch one and the coiled razor wire atop them, the sliding locked doors behind me, the vacant stares of the guys who have been on the row for as many as 30 years, and the fear in the faces of the new inmates. Across the roadway is the small building where inmates spend their last nights before being strapped to a gurney and having the lethal needle inserted into a waiting arm.
There are nearly 350 guys currently on Florida’s death row. The justice system is so convoluted that some of them have languished there for thirty years. The average time between pronouncement of the death sentence to the actual execution is usually about 11 to 12 years. Yet some men have died after as few as five years. Makes no sense, does it? The wait depends upon the attorneys, the judges, the prosecutors….the money.
For Christmas one year, our church wanted to do something special for all the inmates. The warden said, “No.” All we were allowed to do was put a dozen cookies and a can of coke in each cell. But you would have thought we gave them something of terrific value. Such mundane offers are treasures in this house of extinguished dreams and hopeless days.
So why do I make that long and truly harrowing trip? Simple. It’s a task put upon me by the Holy Spirit Himself. Jesus said, “In as much as you do this to these my brethren, you do it unto me.” That’s really all I need to know.
Prayer: O God, don’t let my heart ever become so hardened that I forget those behind bars. Some deserve to be there, I know; others do not. All of them deserve to know the love of Christ. Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me to these men waiting to die. May I make at least some kind of hopeful difference in their lives. Amen.