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Walking to the Promised Land of Justice

By Kate Chatfield             

A just world is impossible.

In this world, there is no time or place where one can stop stop and say, “Yes, this is it, all striving ceases here and now.” Like the promised land, it is somewhere we are meant to move towards, but never arrive at.  However, I count myself fortunate to have seen glimpses of it, moments of hope. That is enough to keep me walking.

I work with a number of clients and their families who speak with me about their faith and their belief in God’s justice.  It is never a conversation that I start, but often times, we find ourselves in very stressful situations together – usually when the client is incarcerated or facing years of incarceration.  When my law partner, Alex, and I were working with a man who had spent 9 years in custody for a crime he did not commit, his mother told me, “I have faith that Joe will be released and God will not allow this injustice to continue.”

I wondered to myself whether we were reading the same gospel.  In the gospel I read, our leader was wrongfully accused by the religious and secular leaders, imprisoned, tortured, scorned by all, and then received the death penalty at the hands of the occupying army while his friends abandoned him.

I do not know how to account for my cynicism while clinging to hope. I believe there is no justice in this world, and I believe there can be justice in this world– the powers and principalities do not have the final word.  Yet, it is so, so hard to continue to believe in that resurrection story.

A few years ago, Alex and I tried a case of a man who got a second chance.  Jamal’s conviction and 50 years to life sentence was reversed for prosecutorial misconduct and we were appointed to represent him at his new trial.  We knew he had not committed the crime of which he was accused and we felt through the fall and winter that his fate was in our hands.  It was a heavy burden.  We worked to exhaustion and tears and every night all I could do was have a drink and mumble an incoherent prayer begging for help.

One day, while the jury was deliberating, Jamal and Alex and I sat in the holding cell together.  Jamal had a great faith and we began talking about Paul and Silas.  I love this story for so many reasons – it is both fantastical and rooted in the real world.  Paul and Silas are tortured and imprisoned in a dungeon.  Suddenly, an earthquake comes and frees not only them, but also everyone in the prison.  Then, rather than run in fear, Paul and Silas spend the night with the warden.  The next morning, they return to the jail and force the authorities to walk them out of the jail and publicly apologize for their treatment of them.  It is a story that makes me laugh out loud.  These two are so bold, so fearless, some would say stupid and reckless, but it is all rooted in being dismissive of those who wield worldly power.

Jamal told us that many nights in prison, he and his cellie would talk about a similar scenario – what if the doors just popped open and everyone could run?  Jamal said he told his cellie he would not.  He would stay.  To him, running would be to acknowledge a guilt he did not have.  He would be like Paul and Silas and stay.  He would wait for justice.

When the jury returned and Jamal was acquitted on all counts, the tears in the courtroom could not be contained.  Jurors were crying, the courtroom clerk had to pause to hold back her tears, and Alex and I and this young man, held hands and wept.  The earthquake had come.

On the first night of spring, we held a liberation party to celebrate. It was as great a celebration as any Passover, as any Easter Vigil.  It felt like justice and mercy and love could flourish in this world.

That feeling lasted a few days and then the other injustices of other cases, other news articles, other outrages demanded attention.  I had had a lovely pause in the walk, a rest by a stream, but the march had to continue.

I have to believe in liberation, in resurrection, despite my cynicism, despite knowing that the march has no set destination.  For me, that is the only hope in this world. 




Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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