I’ve been reading the incredible story of Sunny Jacobs and her husband, Peter Pringle. (Full Guardian interview here)
Between them they have served 32 years in prison: both for crimes they didn’t commit.
Sunny was 28 when she, her two children and boyfriend Jesse, accepted a lift from Walter Rhodes, a man she thought she knew. She fell asleep in the car and awoke to the sound of gunfire: a policeman had knocked on the window and Rhodes opened fire. Rhodes blamed Sunny and Jesse – and both were sentenced to Death Row.
Sunny spent the first five years in solitary confinement, awaiting execution. Her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment; but Jesse was not so fortunate. He was sent to the electric chair, which malfunctioned. It took 13 and a half minutes for him to die.
After Jesse’s execution, Rhodes confessed to murder – and in 1992 Sunny was freed. She campaigned against the death penalty, and one day after giving a talk, noticed a man weeping in the front row. The man, Peter Pringle would later become her husband. He too had been sentenced to death, but challenged his conviction and was released, 15 years later.
Sunny was 28 when she went into prison and 45 when she came out. Her boyfriend was executed in horrific circumstances for a crime he didn’t commit. She missed out on seeing her children grow. Her parents, who looked after her kids, both died when she was in prison.
So how does she feel about her life? – Bitter? Angry? Despairing?
No. She says this:
‘Everyone gets challenged in life and you can either spend the rest of your life looking backwards, or you can make a decision to keep going. That’s the choice I made” She continues, “When Peter and I met, we talked about forgiveness and healing. We have a great life together. We look forward, and we live in the moment’.
This got me thinking about my own life. The choices I make for captivity. The decisions I take to live in the past. The forgiveness and healing that is offered; but I don’t always take.
I know what it is to load up a shotgun. Time and time again, I’ve fired it in God’s face. I don’t trust you Lord. I know what’s best. Not your will, mine.
Unlike Sunny, my crimes are real and my punishment deserved.
But like Sunny, I’ve been set free. There is no Death Row, because Christ has walked it for me. The Bible tells me I’ve been cleared of all charges. So why don’t I always feel it? The prison doors are open – but I’m scared to walk through. I go back to lies instead of truth: self-pity, shame, despair and self-condemnation.
I’d rather stay a slave than do life: real life, alone. But I don’t have to.
Here’s why: my story also ends with a wedding. To someone who understands – because they’ve walked in my shoes. Jesus is the bridegroom who not only unlocks my prison, but waits and carries me out. He’s with me every step.
I can’t look beyond today – but I don’t need to either. By His grace, in this moment, I can walk.