For Darryl Ward, one of his earliest memories of scripture was hearing Jesus say in Matthew Chapter 25, “I was in prison and you visited me.”
It helped him understand that through loving those who are the most unloved and the most outcast we can demonstrate our love for God. Few in society are more unloved and more outcast than those who are in prison — especially those who are on death row.
The row is not a pleasant place. “We all die a little bit on the row each day,” wrote Richard Michael Rossi, who spent more than 20 years on death row in Arizona before dying of natural causes. Depending on which state they are incarcerated in, death row inmates could be locked up for 23 hours a day in tiny cells with no natural light and fed only inadequate servings of inedible food which is shoved through slots, all while waiting in anguish to be killed.
Darryl felt called to write to a death row inmate in Ohio, and provide companionship throughout his journey. And he believes this is the closest thing he will ever do to accompanying Jesus to the cross, which makes it one of the greatest privileges he has ever been given.
He later founded Dismas International, named after St Dismas, the penitent thief crucified next to Jesus (and patron saint of condemned prisoners) to help provide spiritual support and friendship to the men and women on death row in the USA.
In his presentation, Darryl asked members of Synod if they too might feel called to write to a death row inmate, and offered five questions to reflect on consider to help discern any such call.
- Would you be happy about befriending someone who has committed a serious crime?
- Are you prepared to let that and focus on them as a person?
- Would you be prepared to be challenged by those who may accuse you of taking sides with killers over their victims?
- Would you be prepared to send enough funds for them to write back to you?
- Finally, are you certain you can keep up such a commitment? You should never start writing to someone on the row unless you are fully prepared to keep it up.
You can view his PowerPoint presentation here.
We would love to continue this discussion with you, and share your responses and thoughts with the rest of the diocese. Please feel free to hold a discussion within your mission unit on this topic, and send your responses to Darryl’s questions to us on firstname.lastname@example.org.