Harry’s Artful Change

Harry has been in prison for 30 years. He received a life sentence with no possibility of release. Harry’s crime was horrendous. Nobody thinks he has been harshly dealt with. Having been in prison since he was 21 years old Harry will die there.

As a teenager Harry was a mess and a rebel. He was out of control. Nobody could tell Harry what to do. He was against the world and the world was against him. Harry got out of bed every morning thinking about how he would take revenge on someone that day for the supposed wrong they had done him. He, lived, breathed, planned and executed violence every day of his life.

Harry was always running afoul of the police but more often than not his victims were too afraid to press charges. Until his 21st birthday. On that day Harry committed the worst series of murders his arresting officers had ever seen.

The violence didn’t stop in prison. Harry was still angry, perhaps more angry than ever. Again, Harry’s victims were too afraid to report his violence. Men who came out of the shower block with bloodied and bruised bodies explained to the prison officers that they had slipped in the shower and hit their face on the basin.

That was 30 years ago. The change in Harry started in the prison library. Flipping through some art books he saw the agony of the cross in Nicolai Ge’s Crucifixion, the madness and violence of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion and the pain and love in Bartolome Esteban Murillo’s Crucifixion. He thought about who could inflict such violence. He thought about the madness of such violence and the pain it caused others as well as the victim.

Harry realised it was himself. He was the one who could do such horrendous things. He was the one who could put Christ on the cross. The thought was overwhelming. Harry didn’t know what to do with it. He spent weeks not engaging with people. He needed time alone in his cell to think what these profound images meant.

Harry couldn’t work it out so he sought out the chaplain. Over many months the chaplain explained the gospel. Harry finally came to understand and put his trust in Jesus. No-one was close to Harry. It was never safe to be so. But those who knew him best wondered what scheme he was up to. Not understanding the change they saw in the man most other inmates just kept their distance. Harry had changed. He had experienced the love of God in his life and the hatred and anger he had carried for so many years was gone. People even commented that his appearance had changed. No longer did his face express hate and anger. He was calm and even occasionally smiled.

Recently Harry and a number of other lifers have had greater restrictions placed on them. Many of these men have become angry and have threatened more violence. Harry has ended up back in the maximum security he began his prison term in 30 years ago. Standing in the middle of the yard, he looked around and said, “Nothing has changed here in 30 years. But I have.”

Photo:Bartolomé Esteban Murillo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons