Sr. Sheila Galligan
Professor Emerita of Theology, Immaculata University
I’ve been blest to encounter many “holy” people (remembering that this word comes from the Hebrew – it means “different, set apart”)! I spent a day with Immaculee Illabigiza, a Rwanda survivor. I’ve spent many hours with Michael Berg, father of Nick Berg, who was beheaded by ISIS. Each of these people inspired me through their personal witness to the joy and peace, which is the fruit of exercising forgiveness. AND THEN! Then I had the special blessing of spending time with Leroy Evans!
It was my first visit to meet a person in prison. His attorney, Michael Malloy, had introduced me to Leroy’s story. I knew the basic ins and outs of the situation; knew of the decades of anguish Leroy and his family have experienced. Mr. Malloy and I were guided to the visiting room, and within minutes, a guard brought Leroy over. Even before reaching us, Leroy’s gracious, welcoming smile compelled attention. It is one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it. His eyes conveyed wisdom, and the firm grip of his hand imparted a palpable sense of resoluteness and conviction.
A lively conversation ensued. Mr. Malloy, ever single-minded, serious yet affable, reviewed some of the latest developments, noting the slowly-uncovered discrepancies, the missed opportunities, the questions that remain. Leroy clearly signaled his hope that justice will prevail. His serenity evidently flowed from his deep love for and trust in the Lord and His Word.
Several times, Leroy referred to the Psalms. He rejoiced in knowing (not just knowing about) the gift of God’s desire for truth and justice as well as His blessing of mercy. I asked him how he managed not to become bitter, why he didn’t go crazy with rage, as an innocent man locked up for so long. He said he focused on the day-to-day and noted that his “inner peace” is rooted in a tenacious trust in God’s providential care. He reminded me of the words about being forgiven/forgiving in the Our Father. Leroy bears no signs of ill will or resentment – no toxic bitterness. He bears witness to the difference faith can make, even when the world (or the justice system) has ceased making sense.
As he spoke, I remembered that forgiveness is not something one merely recites out of ritual or dogma. It comes from the heart, not from the head. It’s not a gesture; it’s a conviction.
Towards the end of the visit, Leroy told me that someone had come to see him and asked him: “If Anthony Jones were sitting here across from you – what would you do to him?” Leroy said: “Sister, I responded, what kind of question is that? I certainly wouldn’t “do” anything to Anthony. God is the one who will judge Anthony. That’s not my job. I just pray for him.”
That kind of compassion shows that Leroy embodies “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4). Leroy has embraced the graced way of preventing the past from defining the present. While there are many counter-arguments, some better than others, against the exercise of forgiveness, there is no argument against the remarkable kind of mercy Leroy displays.
I can’t imagine the pain and sadness that Leroy and the Evans family has endured, but I can thank them for reminding me (us) that the light of grace shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Perhaps we can pray to be light and love and a vessel of forgiveness and, like Leroy, be transformed in the process. And of course, each of us can try to do our part to help Leroy in his fight for justice.