Carolina Panthers wide receiver Torrey Smith has shared how a recent ministry trip to the largest maximum security prison in the United States changed the way he views forgiveness.
Smith, the 30-year-old former University of Maryland standout, penned an op-ed posted to The Undefeated earlier this month where he explained the “transformative” experience he had during a Pro Athletes Outreach trip to Lousiana State Penitentiary.
Through chaplain Len Vanden Bos, Pro Athletes Outreach runs a ministry called Higher Ground, which takes former and current NFL players as well as Christian leaders to prisons to share the Gospel with inmates.
Although Smith has visited prisons many times over his career, he wrote that the visit he made to the prison built on a former plantation in Angola, Louisiana challenged the assumptions he had about rehabilitation and forgiveness.
“I knew that Angola was a maximum security prison filled with people who were facing lengthy sentences, some convicted of violent crimes like murder or rape but others convicted under the state’s harsh habitual offender laws for which Louisiana is famous,” Smith explained. “I also assumed from everything I had heard that people would be locked in small cages with little interaction with each other outside of the prison yard.”
But to his surprise, what he saw was a community of men that didn’t seem like they were imprisoned at all.
“Some were dressed in plainclothes; no one wore chains,” he wrote. “The men slept in a big room with bunk beds, which reminded me of the 1999 movie Life, where Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence play two Harlem bootleggers sentenced to life in prison for a phony murder charge,” Smith explained. “The reality of what I saw was a lot to take in, and as we walked around, I wondered how could the most violent men in Louisiana live together in what appears to be a very peaceful environment.”
Not trying to over glorify the prison experience, Smith added that men did have to work in the sweltering heat and some work for as little as $0.02 per hour doing things like making license plates or raising cattle.
In walking around the 18,000-acre campus, Smith stated that his interactions with prisoners led him to question his own sense of forgiveness.
“As a follower of Christ, I believe that we are forgiven. But I had to ask myself, ‘Am I really forgiving others?’” Smith asked. “‘If my forgiveness is conditional, is it real?’ I’ve spent many years holding grudges against people who’ve wronged me in some way, and I imagined the grace summoned by victims of crime when they forgive those who have harmed them. I seek the peace and freedom that the forgiven men feel.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith