Forgiving Your Jailers

  Over the past few months, we've heard and read a lot about unjustly convicted prisoners. Movies like Hurricane and the moratorium on executions in Illinois have taught the public that our justice system can and does make mistakes. Well, there's a story out of California that teaches an even more important lesson: that God can use even man's injustice to accomplish His purposes. In 1980, Dwayne McKinney, then 21 years old, was convicted of the felony-murder of a Burger King restaurant manager. He only escaped the death penalty because the jury deadlocked during sentencing deliberations. So he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. McKinney served 16 years before another inmate wrote prosecutors telling them that another man, not McKinney, had actually committed the crime. Eventually, the driver of the getaway car testified that McKinney had not been involved. This new evidence, along with its own investigation, led the Orange County District Attorney's office, which had prosecuted McKinney, to ask for his release. And on January 28, after 18 years in prison as a wrongly convicted man, McKinney was set free. As remarkable as the story of his incarceration and release was, what happened next was even more remarkable. McKinney told the Los Angeles Times that he was not bitter about his ordeal. He said that he even forgave the inmates who kept quiet about his innocence for 16 years. Forgiveness? Not bitter? How could that be? You see, while behind bars, Dwayne McKinney became a Christian. As he told the Los Angeles Times, "I suffered a lot of losses, but I also gained a lot." In other words, McKinney made it plain that there was something more important to him than the physical freedom that was unjustly taken away -- it was the spiritual freedom he gained when he met Christ. Becoming a Christian enabled him to look at his life honestly and to conclude that God had used his imprisonment for good. As he said, "The lifestyle that I led [when I was convicted] put [me] in a vulnerable position... .I could be free and still be lost." Not only did his faith help McKinney to avoid the natural rancor and anger that one might expect, it sustained him while he was in prison. He told the TIMES, "I always believed my deliverance would come.... I just didn't know when it would come." McKinney's ordeal and his perspective are reminiscent of Paul. Both were unjustly imprisoned, yet neither one complained about their mistreatment. Like the apostle, McKinney came to count the loss of his freedom as rubbish in comparison with "the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord...." In doing this, Dwayne McKinney provided evidence for the power of the Gospel that our neighbors can't ignore or explain away. Not just in his ability to forgive, but in the way he saw God's redemptive purpose at work in his life -- even when others didn't. People are debating the merits of the death penalty these days, which makes a story like this one so very timely. Share it with your neighbors. What a wonderful example of how Christ alone can turn our temporal losses into gains that matter for eternity.


Chuck Colson



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