Stone Catchers

I was listening to a podcast with Bryan Stevenson who is a civil rights attorney and spends his life defending men on death row. He told a story about a guard at the prison where he went to consult with his client, an inmate. Upon approaching the door, the guard was very disrespectful to Bryan because he was an African-American. The guard went as far as to require Bryan to show his bar card and then subjected him to a strip search. Bryan’s client was a young man who was on death row for killing a person during a psychotic episode. This young man’s history consisted of 29 different foster homes and he suffered from several types of mental illness. During his trial, this same guard was the one to bring this young man to the courthouse and stayed in the courtroom throughout the trial. A month after the trial was over, Bryan went back to the prison to see his client and the same guard was on duty. This time the guard was polite and respectful to Bryan. Before he led Bryan back to see his client, the guard confessed to Bryan that during the trial he had listened to the young man’s story and that he himself had grown up in foster care and didn’t think anybody had it as bad as him until he had heard the inmate’s story. He went on to praise Bryan for the work he was doing and encouraged him to keep up the good work. An astounding change occurred in this guard that was difficult to fathom was even possible.

To me this story illustrates to too oft mentality of “us vs. them”. As long as this inmate was just a name associated with a terrible act, the guard felt superior and righteous in judging this man. Once the guard heard the inmate’s story, then the inmate became a person to him. Once the guard understood where the inmate “was coming from” it opened and changed his heart.

Too often, people/groups are labeled and stereotyped in order that they may be put in a box that allows us to dismiss that entire group or type of person. We see it everywhere--politics, race, gender, religion, economic status, etc. When, at the end of the day, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and there is no “them” there is only a fractured “us”.

Perhaps this is a coping technique that allows us to believe we have conquered or controlled our fears. Humans tend to fear the unknown by projecting what we fear on a type or group of people, thereby we can compartmentalize our fear and avoid “those people/groups” and/or attack and destroy “those people” resulting in the elimination of our fear.

Humans also rationalize this behavior as our brains tell us it is okay because we are wired to react to fears with fight or flight. The beauty of Bryan Stevenson’s story is the guard standing on the outside came face to face with his fears by listening to the brokenness of the inmate. He had a change of heart just by listening instead of standing on the outside judging. Therein lies a huge lesson. As humans, we all suffer from some level of brokenness and as such we should attempt to practice empathy, forgiveness and mercy, rather exhibit blame and fear. This is very hard. God showers us with his forgiveness and mercy, not because of who we are and what we have done, but because of who God is. What an amazing gift and one that we can share with others.

Bryan is part of a group that he calls “stone catchers”. This title is based on the bible verse John 8:7 when the townspeople were going to stone an adulteress and Jesus said: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.” Our fractured world could be begin healing if we choose to be “stone catchers” rather than “stone throwers”.

Kelley Evans

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