The trouble with Sean

Growing up, the words Sean learned about himself were “idiot”, “fool”, “useless”, “waste of space” and a whole lot of other unrepeatable words.

Sean knew these words were not words of love. They were designed to put him down. He never heard words to build him up. He never heard words that told him others cared for and loved him.

Sean’s only outward response to these words very quickly became words and then acts of retaliation. Somehow he knew these words about him were not true. These words did not define the real person he was. But he didn’t know who the real Sean was. Nobody had ever helped him to find that person.

Retaliation became violence at a very early age. That violence led Sean into trouble with the law. At the age of 12 he was locked up in a juvenile detention centre and has spent very little of his life since outside prison.

Sean’s first experience of love came several years later when he took a shotgun and held up a convenience store. Things quickly got out of hand. Sean found he had five hostages and the building surrounded by heavily armed police. He kept looking out the front of the shop to see if the police were still there because a friend had told him about a time when the police had been chasing him and he had run into a house to hide. All the police ran to the back of the house and the man then calming walked out the front of the house and escaped.

No such dumb luck for Sean. He could even see a sniper on the roof of the shop opposite. While he was distracted by this, four of his hostages managed to run out the front door. Sean didn’t know what to do. The thought never entered his head to shoot at them. But there was one man left. Sean turned and saw him looking at him. The hostage said, “Are you OK?” Not really understanding the question Sean just said, “Yes”.

The siege went on for some hours. The police kept trying to negotiate. Sean didn’t respond. Eventually he said to his remaining hostage, “I might as well just go out there.” The hostage said to him, “Don’t do that. They’ll shoot you.” Sean didn’t know what to do. This man was reaching out to him. Treating him like no-one else in his life had ever treated him. Caring for his life. Sean wanted to stay with this man.

Eventually the siege ended peacefully. Sean was back in prison. Super max. Angry still at the world. Even angrier than ever before because the first glimmer of love had been taken away from him. But it was not for long.

Each day an education officer came to Sean’s cell, asking if he wanted to do some reading and writing. He told her in no uncertain terms that she should go away. Every day for two years she came to his cell with the same question. Every day Sean turned her away.

One day Sean thought, “This woman has been doing this for two years. She must be a pretty good person.” The following day he said, “Yes.” Sean experienced love for the second time in his life.

Thanks to the perseverance of the education officer Sean began to make progress in the super max. Eventually he was released into the main prison population. The first thing he did was head for the chapel. The door was open and he went in to pray. The chaplain came out of his office and welcomed him. Sean said he just wanted to thank God for sending the teacher to his cell.

Sean began attending chapel on a regular basis. Eventually the chaplain recommended him for participation in a special Christian program. A senior corrections office saw his name on the list and went to Sean and said, “I’m taking your name off this program. There’s no way you’re ever going to do this as long as I have anything to say about it. You’re just an evil bastard.”

These words sent Sean spinning back to his childhood. The concern for him as a fellow human shown by his hostage, the teacher and the chaplain were immediately undone by these uncaring words. There and then Sean made up his mind to kill the corrections office. He began to make plans how he would do it. He realised he would not get away with it and fully expected that he would also probably die in the attempt. But that didn’t put him off. His mind was made up. His plans were made.

Before he could carry out his plans the chaplain noticed his name had been taken off the list for the special program. He approached Sean about it. Sean told him what had happened. The chaplain responded, “You’re not evil Sean. You just haven’t discovered yet the man God wants you to be.” Those words hit Sean with surprise. He wasn’t evil but whatever he was, he still hadn’t found out what, who, it was God wanted him to be.

Sean made the decision not to waste his time reacting to a man who thought he was evil. He had to spend his time and energy finding out who God wants him to be.

Now in his 30s Sean has been out of gaol and out of trouble for the longest time in his life. He knows that even though others have said he is evil, he knows that despite the fact that he has done some evil things, he is not evil. He knows he is loved. He has seen glimmers of love in the people who have reached out to him. He is experiencing God’s love in the fellowship of the small church he has joined. Through this community of God’s people Sean is slowing discovering the person God created him to be.