(Preface: This post discusses some tougher topics.)
Working with International Justice Mission in Uganda means that I constantly plead for the widows, the orphans, the abused and the most impoverished and unprotected of society. Violence against women and children is our focus here in Uganda, for me its typically my full-time desk job. It is easy to be passionate about, it is a worthy cause. But this past week I spent four full days in Ugandan prisons, this was not my typical desk job.
We spent the week advocating for prisoners as their legal counsel. Not all prisoners, but specifically guilty ones-- specifically prisoners who voluntarily admitted their guilt. Every prisoner I worked with was admitting guilt to a capital offense. Rape, murder, aggravated robbery, etc. A sour taste still lies in my mouth and my heart feels heavy at some of the things I heard, read and advocated for. But why? Why was I advocating for lesser sentences on behalf of the guilty? One reason—backlog. The Ugandan judicial system is backlogged. In some districts it can take five to six years for a case to be heard. And because of the high chances of a person vanishing if they post bail, not very often is bail given as an option to an accused person. What does this mean for the country?
It means anyone accused of a crime, will sit in prison (sometimes for things they haven’t done) without a chance to have their case heard, for up to six years. The prisons are overflowing. Both prisons we worked in were over three times past their capacity. Innocent people sit and wait, for years, in terrible conditions. Plea Bargaining is a process that helps because it moves guilty people out of the way so that innocent people can have their day in court. It gives guilty criminals an incentive for admitting their guilt by allowing reduced sentence time. We worked alongside Ugandan Attorneys ad Ugandan Law Students to help teach and train them so that Plea Bargaining will gain wide acceptance and understanding nationally.
In the big picture, it seems like a great idea, but the nitty gritty of plea bargaining is extremely difficult. To advocate for someone who does not even seem remorseful for the heinous crime they have committed, to argue on behalf of a rapist or sit across the table from a triple murdered was a challenge.
Before we arrived, the other prisoners filled the minds of the program participants with ideas of how much time they should get for what they have done. A man who raped a three-year-old told me he thought he deserved four years. Another man who murdered and chopped up his own mother demanded six. I plead their case to the prosecutors, asking for a reduction from the 15 or 20 year offer they were initially given.
“Yes sir, I agree with you that an HIV positive rapist should not get less than 20 but my client is adamant about 6 years and says he is remorseful for what he did.”, I would often barely manage to say.
“Tell him I will go to 18 and nothing less.” the prosecutor would reply, firm and decisive.
It was a long, difficult week, but it was a successful week with over 190 cases successfully reaching plea agreements. Reflecting on my time in the prisons I am full of lots of different emotions. Being in such close proximity to evilness was thought-provoking.
The main thing I am reflecting upon now are my own similarities with these men. Yes, my own similarities to these guilty prisoners. Because it was not long ago that someone advocated for my guilt.
I am guilty of many things. Idolatry, materialism, jealousy, the list goes on. I waited many years for my trial, in a personal prison that bound me in chains. I was not free. I had no peace, I was anxiety ridden and full of anger. Do you ever feel this way?
And then one day I felt remorse. The weight of my guilt and sin crashed down on me, I couldn’t take it anymore. That was the day I finally understood what it meant when they said that I didn’t have to carry the burden of my guilt and shame. Someone, a long time ago, had come to carry the burden for me. Someone had already sat at the table and bargained on my behalf. This man saw my guilt and my shame and argued for me, even though I was undeserving.
To the table, I brought nothing of value. All I brought was sinful baggage and a remorseful, heavy heart. And yet, He looked at me across the bargaining table and He lovingly advocated on my behalf. Did you know He wants to advocate for you too? He always has, no matter the crime, no matter the sin, no matter the guilt. He is waiting patiently at the table to plead for your case.
And the most mind-boggling part of it all, is that once I was given my death sentence, HE SERVED THE SENTENCE FOR ME. I was set free that day, released from my personal prison. The chains that bound me were taken off. I was undeserving but He called me loved. He called me known. He called me worthy. He called me cherished. He called me CHILD OF GOD.
Died for my guilt, died for my shame-- could I? Give me life to advocate for others, just as Jesus advocates for you and me to this very day? I can try, I will try and in the trying I am thankful for reminders that my battle has already been won. I am free, and I don't take my freedom lightly.
Do you feel free? Or are you still bound by the weight of your sins, anxiety and burdens? Feeling remorse and bringing yourself to the table is often the hardest part. I love these verses in this order, which teach of how Jesus sets us free. Romans 3:23, Romans 3:10, Romans 5:12, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 10:9-10, Romans 10:13, Romans 10:17.
For more updates and daily stories, follow @livingintentionali on Instagram.
March 19th, 2019 WEEKLY UPDATE:
Days left in the Field: 270
What a crazy past few weeks it has been! I am so glad I got the chance to sit down and type this story. There has been lots of travel, power outages and bad signal reception in my past few weeks so thank you for your patience and constant support. I wanted to note that if anyone has tried to text or call me on my American phone number it is currently not in use, to contact me reach out any time via WhatsApp using my American number or via email, email@example.com. I would love to hear from you, and I am sorry if you texted me and thought I was ignoring you, I most certainly was not.
I came down with a stomach bug this weekend and while I am still not feeling 100%, I am feeling much better. Please continue praying for good health for me and all the other staff members.
I am actually heading to the states in a few weeks for Easter and to see my little sister perform her last dance performance (she opted for that instead of me attending her graduation, we are very similar indeed). It will be my only trip home this year so please send prayers for travel mercies and good health (again).
I have a list of supplies I will need to bring back with me from the states, so if you have any interest in contributing you can reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the next few weeks and I can send you the list. It is a strange, specific list of odds and ends which I have found Africa does not have. I also have still not met my fundraising goal. The months which I am most in need financially are during the summer, which is coming up. If you have thought about giving and have not had a chance yet, now is the time as those months are quickly approaching.
Fundraising Completed: 78%
CLICK HERE TO HELP ME MEET MY FUNDRAISING GOAL!