Once a month, the members of this support group congregate in Dallas. With a bond that few understand, each has a story, yet most refuse to discuss it with outsiders. What do these men have in common? All were accused of crimes they did not commit and spent years in prison, until finally being exonerated due to DNA evidence.
Southwest Airline's "Spirit" magazine carried their story and focused on Patrick Waller, now 40, who spent 16 years locked away. Before his arrest, Waller had been employed as a fast-food manager and was married with three young children. By the time he was released from the penitentiary, his wife had left him and his kids were grown.
Victimized by shoddy police work, Waller's legitimate alibi was ignored and he was arrested. His sentence: life in prison. While there, he spent every day in the library, earning two degrees and writing letters to attorneys, asking them to take another look at his case.
In 2000, things began to look up. Texas passed a law saying that DNA could be admitted in post-conviction appeals. Waller petitioned for the test but was denied. Four years later, the same thing happened. The inmate finally got his shot in 2007 when a new district attorney was elected and formed a task force to oversee post conviction reviews.
On July 3, 2008, Waller sat in a borrowed suit inside a Dallas courtroom and heard the judge declare, "You are free to go." At that time, there was no help for innocent men released from prison, and were it not for another ex-con, Charles Chatman -- who himself had spent 27 years unjustly incarcerated -- Waller would have left prison with no support. Chatman, however, met Waller at the prison gate and handed him some clothes and a $100 bill. The "Spirit" journalist referred to Chatman as Walker's "Savior."
Because of DNA testing, in the last 10 years 189 innocent men have been set free, but as I read Waller's story, I found myself outraged at the injustice done these men. Most were young when they were incarcerated. I cannot imagine the frustration felt as they tried to get someone to listen but, instead, heard comments like, "Oh, sure, you're innocent. You and everyone else behind these bars."
I don't like stories like Waller's. I like things fair --good guys win, bad guys lose. Cinderella gets the slipper and the prince while the stepsisters get bitten by mice. Roy Rogers rides in on Trigger and the black hats flee. You know. Justice prevails.
Unfortunately, that's not reality. Bad things happen to good people, and they, too, can find themselves bounded by bars of injustice. Scripture promises us that. From Genesis through Revelation, we read of such. Joseph. Stephen. John. Jesus. Innocent people who were victimized by lies and laziness, each paying a horrific price for something they did not do.
We know that injustices did not stop in Biblical times. Illness. Joblessness. Unfaithfulness. Most of us sooner-or-later find ourselves bound by the prison bars of despair. Yet Psalm 39:7 has an answer: "But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you." Thank God we Christians do not have to dwell on the injustices that this world brings. We can be excited about the day when we will step into a life of perfect freedom where we will be met by the real Savior who will clothe us in righteousness and offer us the ultimate reward -- life in Heaven.
Only then will we meet Justice. Face-to-face. His name is Jesus.