Guilty But Forgiven
by Anthony Vasko
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Roland stood humbly between his past and his destiny. He was dressed in orange from head to toe awaiting the words of the man with the gavel. Then he was asked if he had anything more to say before the decision was made final.
“No sir. I’ve said all that I needed to say.”
“Okay then,” the man said, “due to insufficient evidence of rehabilitation, and an unconvincing remorse for the crimes committed, the motion for parole has been refused.”
Roland was guilty; he never denied it. He fully intended to rob the gas station nearly thirty years to the date, but he never intended to kill anyone. Night after night he tossed and turned on his cold metal bed, the sights of a mother and daughter lying face down in each other’s blood haunting him until he fell asleep and the nightmares set in. Three decades of prayer and asking God’s forgiveness didn’t change the way he felt—guilty, and the warden’s gavel cemented the feeling into him for what he thought would be forever.
The guards walked him back to his cell, and when the steel door opened he was pushed inside. He held his hands through a small opening and waited to be unchained. When the shackles were removed, the slot was closed. He was home.
“No luck amigo?” his cellmate said.
“No, Miguel. No luck.”
“I’m sorry, amigo. Hopefully next time.”
“Yeah. Next time.”
There would be no “next time” though. It was his last chance at parole. It was his last chance for freedom.
Before climbing into his bed and hiding under the coarse woolen blanket, he sat down at the small desk and picked up his pen to write a letter.
Dear Mother and Daughter,
May the peace and joy of God’s Resting Place be with you. I should be there, in the ground, not you. My life should have been taken, not yours. God brought three lives into this world, and I took all three of them away. I have tried and tried, but I don’t think I can ever forgive myself. I am prepared to endure the fires of hell, so long as you may rest in peace.
I was denied parole for the final time today. The warden says I haven’t been rehabilitated. I know that I would never do such a thing again, but I also know that I did do it, and so I must pay the full price.
The walls and the steel bars and the shackles do not bother me anymore. I feel no more imprisoned by them than I would an open field. What imprisons me is not being able to forgive myself for what I’ve done. This world is no longer in need of me. I have taken and taken, but I give nothing back. Perhaps I will finally give the world something good by taking myself away.
Rest in God’s Peace,
He folded the notepad and stacked it on top of the others. Thirty years of writing letters, all of them more or less the same, with nowhere to be sent, so they piled up instead, serving as a reminder of the wrong he had done. Finally, he climbed into bed, pulled his blanket over his aging body and said, “Buenos noches, Miguel.”
“Good night, Roland,” the voice from above returned.
As he lied in bed, unable to sleep, he accepted his fate. He was going to find a way to kill himself. He would wait until the next day, so Miguel wouldn’t have to be in the room when he did it. With his parole denied so was his chance to seek the forgiveness of the family he deprived a mother and a daughter, a wife and a sister. He didn’t say his prayers that night. He no longer sought salvation. Both had escaped him at the warden’s desk.
Morning came and the slot in the door slid open. He reached his hands through and waited to be shackled for the last time. Then he followed Miguel and the others down the long, narrow walkway to his last meal.
He chewed slowly, enjoying every bite. He was sure they didn’t serve breakfast in hell. When he was done, and the bell rang, he joined the others in line. He looked at Miguel, who was on his way to the library for school, and he said, “Farewell, brother.”
“I’ll see you later, amigo.”
Then he walked coolly and methodically to his resting place.
The steel door opened and he stepped inside. He held his hands through the opening and waited. He was relieved of the shackles, and as usual, they left rings around his wrists. Rings he often sat and stared at for hours.
He sat down at the small desk, looked at the stacks of notepads to his left, and took the ink pen into his right hand. He held it over his left wrist. Then he raised it to his neck. He wanted it to be quick. He wanted it to be final.
Three knocks echoed through the steel door. Then the slot was opened.
“Looks like you’ve got a letter,” said the voice on the other side.
“No letter,” he said. “No one sends me letters.”
“Roland Tynes? Number 06772?”
“Well yes, that’s me, but I don’t know anyone who would send me a letter.”
“Do you want it or not?”
“Yes. I’ll take it.”
The envelope was dropped through the slot, sailed up and down through the air, and landed on the cold cement floor. He set the pen down on the desk and walked over to the letter. He picked it up and sat down on his bed. Then he opened it and read:
This letter is very difficult for me to compose. I believe it’s been a long time coming, and I only wish it relieves you by reading it as much as it relieves me to write it. Thirty years ago you killed my mother and sister as my mother was finishing her shift at a gas station in north Houston. That crime and loss of my loved ones orphaned me at the age of 6. I was in school when it happened, causing me to never see either one of them again. I spent the rest of my youth in and out of foster homes, until succeeding enough in high school to earn a full scholarship to the University of Texas.
I never forgot what happened to my mother and sister, and because of it, I set out to pursue a career in law. I graduated top of my class, applied and was accepted to law school in Chicago, and since I have made a very comfortable life in the Midwest with a wife and three kids. Slowly over time the wounds of my childhood healed, but not fully. I came to grips with the loss, and I believe that both my mother and sister are at peace with the Lord.
I have prayed and prayed, but the wound has never entirely healed. Then I sought the guidance of my priest. I told him my entire story, from beginning to end, and I explained to him how I can’t find the last bit of healing I need. Word for word he went through the Lord’s Prayer with me. When we neared the end, a light went on in my head. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
He advised me to think of all of the people who have done wrong to me, and if possible, find those individuals and offer my forgiveness. I sought every friend, co-worker, and businessman who I felt “wronged” me at some point or another. I extended my hand, and in most cases I was well received. Little by little I felt the wound closing up. Finally, I couldn’t find anyone else who had done wrong to me. The wound was only one stitch away from being closed forever.
I never thought I’d be able to do this. I was sure that I’d hate and revile the man who took the lives of my mother and sister forever. I wanted that man to be executed and taken out of this world with them. The anger and hate took deep roots within my soul, and by ignoring the memory altogether, I didn’t know I possessed such evil within me. I would like to note that I am not only doing this for myself, but for you as well. I want the healing I’ve yearned, but I also want healing for you, too. I want you to know that I forgive you. I have prayed for you. I have asked God to forgive you. I truly hope that you have sought the Lord’s forgiveness. I no longer wish evil upon you, rather, I wish you salvation.
I cannot imagine we will ever meet. I don’t know if I’ll ever possess that kind of courage. But the Lord works in very mysterious ways, as evident by this letter. Please accept my forgiveness Roland. Please know that you are one of God’s children like everyone else, regardless of your past, and that He wants you with Him when He decides.
Your Brother in Christ,
Juan Jose M.
Roland trembled as tears rolled off his cheeks and fell through the air before landing like raindrops on the letter’s surface. He was free.
He carried the letter to his desk, grabbed the notepad at the top of the stack, and opened it to the first blank page.
Dear Juan Jose,
Thank you. You saved my life. You freed me from the shackles that have imprisoned me for thirty years. I accept your forgiveness. I hope to see you and your mother and your sister one day in Heaven. Thank you.
Your Brother in Christ,
When he was finished writing the short letter, the first of many similar letters he would compose over the last years of his life, he closed the cover of the notepad and placed it on the ground, next to the tall stack of others, as new beginning.
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