A man is acused of rape and put in prison for 35 years. He denies it for 35 years, and various organizations and civic leaders attempt to assist him in his plight. Had he said he was guilty he would have been released years ago. Now as he comes up for parole he needs help from the outside. He was taken from society in 1975– before home computers, internet, cellphones, walmart, atari, simpsons, Jimmy Carter, or many things most of us take for granted. How should Christians live? What does it mean to live lives of grace and redemption? How can we help such a person. This is what we’ve been thinking about and praying about at Simple Free.
I got a call a little over a month ago from a woman working with Innocence Project Nebraska, who had heard I might be able and willing to help Mr. Juneal Pratt, a man who has been perhaps wrongfully imprisoned for 35 years. He is coming up for parole January 13th. I said I would like to hear more. Today (Dec 16) I met Juneal at the correctional facility out by the Airport and we talked for an hour. He was kind, soft spoken, very thoughtful, and showed me a pile of certificates he had earned taking classes in prison on carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and many other skills. He said “I could have become cynical in here, but I’ve chosen to improve myself”. He told me “I sometimes wonder why this happened, but I trust that God has me in here for some reason. The serenity prayer has helped me get through this, since I cannot change my circumstances” I asked him what he thinks will be the biggest challenges for him when he gets out and he said that the technology advances are going to be a big adjustment. We talked about my projects and properties, and possible housing situations.
Innocence Project people hope we will invite him into my house so he will have some other guys around him just to help him get reaclimated to life outside. When prisoners get out of prison, things are difficult. No one wants to hire you (many companies have policies strictly prohibiting it) and most apartments don’t want you. He will be listed as a sex offender, and if he lives with us, our house will be on the internet map identifying such houses. If he lives in any of my apartments, that would be made known to the other tennants.
But I think he is innocent. And if Christians do not extend grace to someone like Juneal, then who in the world would we expect to do so? Could he be guilty? Yes. He could have been out 8 years ago if he had admitted guilt though, and he has had no incidents in the last 20 years of prison life. What more can we ask of someone?
It is easier to feel sorry for someone and help them from a distance. And if I had a wife and kids I may not be willing to have Juneal in my home. It is not only my decision, it is the decision of all the men in my house, and so far they have been positive.
If we do not spend our lives risking for good causes, then what is our purpose? If we do not give grace in ways that cost and make us get personally involved in the lives of those who need, then what is our purpose really?
Simple Free has been praying about this, as have other friends in our neighborhood. I hope you will pray for us too as we make some significant decisions in the next couple of days. Thank you! — Andy Gustafson
For a sequential history of the case, see this link: