As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is a resetting of a Body of broken bones. -Thomas Merton

Three years ago, I started a pen pal relationship with a man named Ramiro Gonzales. In one of his very first letters to me, he finished off with a verse from the Bible:

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

Ramiro is a prisoner on the Polunsky Unit in Livingston. This is where all death row inmates in Texas are held, often for 10, 20 or even 30 years.

Although I know a few lovely people on Death Row, you don’t end up on “A Pod” for stealing a bicycle. And certainly, not everybody on Death Row evolves to be of person of compassion. Some men become even more broken than they were when they arrived. By the time they are executed, nobody is the same as when they entered Polunsky.

PolunskyWhile I am no fan of insults or persecutions, the men I know (and know of) who have found some peace, who have been able to alter their relationship with the world and authentically start to seek forgiveness – all of them started by realizing there was Something Larger than themselves. Most of these men (and few women) describe this greater force as God. Some describe it as “the Universe at work”. But everybody who is able to find some sort of peace, and break away from the anger, violence, and selfishness that pervaded their soul, comes to realize that the world does not start and end with them. They come to acknowledge their own smallness, their own brokenness, and their own weakness. It’s in their weakness and brokenness that they find their true strength – strength to face the terrible magnitude of what they’ve done.  Strength that gets them through a life of mostly solitary confinement.  Strength that does not harm, but rather seeks to reconcile and to work towards healing and peace.

I’m leaving to visit Texas Death Row on Sunday night and I will keep Paul’s words to the Corinthians close to me. Whether we follow Jesus, practice another faith, or practice no faith, there is always something larger than ourselves from which we can draw.

We become stronger in acknowledging our brokenness.



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