I received an email from one of my nieces the other day. It took the form of a chain letter that you were encouraged to copy and paste and send on to hundreds of other contacts. Like most chain letters it played on people's fears. The content was about the Jamie Bulgar murder done by two ten-year-old boys. After having spent eleven years in a young offender's institute they are about to be released, being granted anonymity for the rest of their lives.
I was told in the letter that "We cannot let this happen" and "They are getting away with their crime" and warned that "if Robert and Jon could be so evil at 10 years old, imagine what they could do as adults!"
The people we were at ten years old are not the same people we become at twenty-one or twenty two. I am not the same person I was at ten years old. I can't believe that the two boys have been sitting in their young offender's institute planning their next murder as soon as they get out. I don't believe they have got away with their crimes either - they have lost their freedom and most of their childhood. Yes, they took away someone else's childhood too, and the rest of that person's life, but I don't think that there haven't been times where they have regretted it. Regret doesn't bring someone back. Executing the criminal doesn't bring someone back either. Keeping them in prison merely makes it three wasted lives instead of one.
I am perhaps naïve in thinking that they wouldn't be released if a group of people didn't think that they were no longer a threat to people. If they have to be granted anonymity, they are the ones being threatened.
What is the alternative to release? As I see it, they are becoming too old to remain in a young offender's institute. That means a transfer to "grown up" prison. Leave them there for the rest of their sentence - another eleven years. Each day they rub shoulders with grown up criminals, not children or youth, but the real hard cases. What are they going to learn in that environment? I think they might possibly learn how to become better criminals with any lack of respect for authority being totally eroded away. At twenty one, outside in the world, going to university, getting a job, earning money and contributing to society, rubbing shoulders with people who love others and are capable of demonstrating compassion - they are not so old that they are fixed in their ways. Leave them in prison for another eleven years with people who for the most part do not know how to show compassion, who hate, and then release them when their attitudes and opinions are fixed in place - that is dangerous. Let's face it - they are going to be released one day. I refuse to see the next eleven years as chances and opportunities for them to kill more people, but chances and opportunities for us to show them why life is sacred and must be respected.
The gospel, the Good News, is about the possibility of change, to be new creations. God doesn't write off anyone, and I don't think we should either.
I am not copying and pasting the letter.