A French woman's unlikely correspondance with an inmate on death row in the United States reveals the power of God's grace and the human need for friendship.
Five years ago, I discovered the Community of Sant’Egidio. Attracted by one of their missions, to correspond with a person condemned to death, I was given the contact information of a prisoner (I received a name and an address in California).
When I began this correspondence, it was understandable to imagine, on the other side of the Atlantic, a desperate, atheistic and lost person. This was not the case. Edgardo’s first letter—three pages typed in perfect English—was full of Christian hope and even humor.
His first words set the tone of his correspondence: “Hi Eleanor, how are you? Do you know that the day you first wrote to me was my birthday? Yes, it’s true!” Then he briefly tells his story: from his pedestrian crossing from Guatemala to the United States at the age of 16, to his descent into hell following an armed robbery in a grocery store. At 21, he was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer. He has spent more than half his life in a heavily guarded California prison.
Aside from a few details he mentions about his daily routine and his “hobbies” (basketball, dominoes and chess), Edgardo now focuses in our exchanges on spirituality. He likes to talk about the great Love of his life: Christ.
An extraordinary conversion
In his first letter, Edgardo modestly summarizes his extraordinary conversion: “Jesus Christ is my Lord, my King and my Savior. He entered my life shortly after my arrest in 1992. I now spend most of my time reading the Bible, studying it and writing messages to evangelize. He is the great Love of my life. He is my Everything.”
On death row Edgardo discovered the mercy of God. After a powerful conviction of sin, he was able to move forward and form a personal and unique bond with Christ. He now writes daily evangelistic texts or poems, like this one:
You are my All
When I was lost, you found me
When I was dead, you gave me life
When I was in darkness, You were my Light
When I was a prisoner, You gave me Freedom
When I had nothing to live for, You gave me a Mission.
This conversion to Christ also radically changed his relationship with his neighbor. Full of sensitivity and attention to others, Edgardo asks me in his letters about my daily activities, my work and my way of living my faith. Forgetting himself, he encourages me and compliments me: “Do your piano students realize how lucky they are to be learning the piano with you?”
Edgardo regularly publishes messages of hope in Compassion magazine (for American death row inmates). He spoke for his fellow inmates in an article entitled “Her many sins were forgiven, for she loved much” (Lk 7:47). In it, he describes the difficulty of those condemned to death to believe in God. The reason, according to Edgardo, is that they feel forever excluded from society, no matter how hard they try to become better. “Our society has decided not to forgive our errors and faults, but instead to punish us for our entire lives in the name of justice.”
Edgardo confides in this article the source of his hope: “It is not because I am good, noble and generous that I love others and forgive them. It is only because of the grace and love with which Christ loved and forgave me that I am now able to imitate him.”
The Community of Sant’Egidio describes the correspondence with a condemned man as a “thread of life” for the prisoners. Prisoners suffer greatly while waiting indefinitely for their execution. Correspondence with a person in the world gives them a space to express themselves, to discover their interiority, to establish a deep relationship of friendship. If you too would like to practice this work of spiritual mercy (the consolation of the afflicted), you can contact the Community of Sant’Egidio.
Community of Sant’Egidio, Stefania Tallei (in charge of the correspondence with those condemned to death): email@example.com