An Act of Mercy
We never know when an act of mercy may not only be the right choice personally—it may even save a life. The following account, related to me by a young man serving time in a state prison, is one of the most remarkable examples of mercy and grace under pressure I've ever heard. And it occurred between two people often considered natural enemies: a prisoner and a correction's officer.
Rubin* had been in prison for about ten years, the last six of which were in restricted housing—or as prisoners refer to it: The Hole. Rubin explained to me that he had reached a state of utter hopelessness: he could not even imagine an existence outside of a cage.
There was no loving family waiting for Rubin if he ever got out of prison. There never had been. He'd been raised in an abusive environment, and much of his life had been filled with trauma and loss. So whenever his anger and depression became unmanageable, it was easier to blame the officers for his problems.
"I was crazy," Rubin told me. "I was so angry from all that time in the Hole, and angry about everything that had happened in my life. I couldn't think straight anymore, and I had nothing to look forward to. So I made trouble for the officers. I flooded my cell. I broke windows. I gang-warred non-stop with them."
One day, while Rubin was up to his usual antics, Captain Smith came on duty. Since Rubin liked Captain Smith he usually dialed back his behavior on his shifts. But Rubin was so upset that evening, he made no attempt to conceal his roiling emotions. Eventually his behavior prompted some of the officers on duty to come to his cell and shackle him to his bed.
When a prisoner is restrained, Department of Corrections' policy mandates officers check on them every two hours. Adhering to policy, Captain Smith approached his cell with a few other officers and asked Rubin if he wanted something to drink. Rubin told him he did but warned him to "suit up." He wanted to put the officers through the extra trouble of putting on all the added gear. He told them that he could not guarantee their safety otherwise.
But Captain Smith chose not to bother with the protective gear. He walked in with the cup of water and handed it to Rubin, who promptly tossed it right into his face.
As Rubin paused—and I tried to recover from my shock—his expression softened and a look of deep gratitude settled across his face. When Rubin spoke again, it was in hushed, respectful tones, like the reverent whisper one uses in church.
"All the officers were ready to come after me then," he said. "I don't blame them. I should have gotten another charge for what I did. But Captain Smith told them to back off. He wiped the water off his face and tried to calm himself down. Then he closed my door and returned a couple hours later."
"What did he do to you?" Clearly, there should have been serious consequences for Rubin's behavior.
"Nothing," Rubin said. "He talked to me. He asked me what was wrong and why I was behaving the way I was. We talked man to man. And for the first time since I was locked up, I could tell an officer cared. I wasn't just a nuisance. He saw me as a human being, even after I had done such a terrible thing to him. Shortly after that, I totally submitted myself to the Lord. I was ready to change. And part of the reason I try so hard to make good choices now is to honor Captain Smith."
We both fell silent after Rubin finished his story. Some moments are so special—some acts of mercy so breathtaking—that words are inadequate to describe the awe they leave in their wake. I thought about all the stories I had been told over the years about officers, good and bad. But never had I heard a story like Rubin's.
Today Rubin is in general population in another prison, and a year has passed since I first heard his story about Captain Smith. Like Rubin, I will never forget him—even though we've never actually met. His Christ-like example will always remind me that mercy often bears a sweeter fruit than justice. Sometimes, it can even save a life.
*Names have been changed.
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