by Sr. Donna Liette, C.PP.S., PBMR
It was a perfect May Saturday in Chicago as students from DePaul University joined the PBMR staff, youth and neighbors in a springtime cleanup and preparations for a summer of new life! Vegetable beds were filled with goat manure from a local farm in hopes of an even better-than-last-year harvest. The labyrinth was touched up in preparation for the evening Peace Walk. New relationships were formed and there was laughter, joy and a sense of freedom after the winter lock-down. Our youth were having fun, working hard together, preparing the community garden, pulling weeds, mowing, and planting flowers in the peace garden. After the day’s work, we all stood, dirty and tired, but connected at a different level saying, “It is good—very good!”
As darkness came upon our work, a full moon high in the sky, a bonfire in the peace circle, and luminaries around the labyrinth, people gathered from the community, sharing concerns for our youth and our neighborhood, praying that 38 year-old Adolfo Davis of our community might be granted his freedom Monday after being sentenced to life without parole at 14. In silence, one by one, we walked around the labyrinth path into the center “God space” where we stood in solidarity. In a neighborhood where there are often gunshots, screaming, and sirens, there was a sacred silence and a deep peace.
Sunday we celebrated liturgy and again prayed for Adolfo. We were challenged to speak boldly for justice and to prune away the dead branches so new life could come forward. We sang with hope and looked forward to the long-awaited day of Adolfo’s resentencing.
Monday, May 4th came, and it seemed it was Good Friday all over. Another 30+ year-old man, not as innocent as Jesus but yet a son of God, was condemned once again to die in prison. He was whipped by each sentence from the judge’s mouth and scourged as she stripped him of his human dignity. Then she shamed him and sent him to die in a prison cell. Adolfo put his head down on the defense table and wept.
Father Kelly, who had testified on his behalf, was called by the judge “one of his followers and part of this movement to release prisoners sentenced to life without parole as juveniles.” Kelly sat silently feeling each scourge as the judge read the condemnations and sentenced Adolfo to natural life…
There was a silence, unlike the silence within the labyrinth on Saturday night. Outside the courtroom, there was crying, embracing, standing in amazement, and disbelief. The media was there to hear the stories but no one wanted to speak.
There was no “Father, forgive him, for he did not know what he was doing.” As a society, where is our belief in human rights, in mercy and forgiveness, in the grace of redemption?
Jacqueline, the only woman in Illinois awaiting resentencing, was devastated by Adolfo’s sentence. She wept for him and said, “I have been in prison since I was 5, raped, abused and when I cried out for help, no one wanted to hear my pain—much like Adolfo—and like Adolfo we are handcuffed, shackled and cast away without a chance to tell our story.”
Last night, when Adolfo was able to call Father Kelly, he said: “Maybe God just wants to wait a little longer for my freedom. Maybe I have to wait for my freedom so that that more people could bear witness to the injustices that this case shows.” Adolfo knows that this next phase of challenges is no longer just about him, but about a larger discussion about children sentencing, and the purposes of the criminal justice system.
We have a lot of work to do to prune away the dead branches of this institution that still believes in locking up children to die in prison. It was a sad day; it is a sad time, but we hold on to the belief that there will be an Easter Sunday. Adolfo already seems to believe just that, so how can we not? As men and women dedicated to Precious Blood Spirituality, are we not challenged to speak out boldly that each person be treated with human dignity and seen as redeemable and worthy of our unconditional love?