I stumbled across a web page the other day that created a deep sense of sadness within me. It’s a page of theTampa Bay Times which presents mug shots of people arrested in the area.
Five mug shots appear near the top of the page. When you click on the photo you are taken to information about the person including name, age, birth date and criminal charge. There is an arrow to the right of the five mug shots, which, when clicked, takes you to another five, and then another five, and then another five.
On the day I saw the site the crimes included driving under the influence, driving without a license, battery, prostitution, drugs, grand theft, misdemeanor theft, and on and on.
The people cited for driving offenses looked pretty “normal.” But the other offenses often revealed faces reflecting deep brokenness — sadness, hopelessness, defiance, pain. Some of the offenders smiled, as if to mock the process, including one 28-year-old man charged with “battery (victim over 65).”
Two categories of offenders caught my particular attention because their faces had the look of shattered lives — those arrested on drug charges and those booked on prostitution. It’s what their eyes “say” that is shocking; it’s as if their souls are crying out for help in the midst of desperation.
You also could see the difference between the prostitutes in their 20s and those in their 30s and 40s. The younger ones were often attractive, but with the older ones you could only see shadows of a beauty that had passed away sometime in the woman’s past. It was not just a matter of age taking its toll; it was much, much more than age. Looking at these women, I hurt for them and I wondered if human trafficking had played into the destruction of their lives.
Confronted with such a terrible reality, those of us who follow Christ know that none of these offenders and the thousands more like them around the country are beyond the love of God. No matter how low these fellow children of God may have slipped, Christ can still bring purpose, fullness, and hope to their lives. Redemption always is possible.
The jails and prisons of our communities are full of people who need to feel the love of Christ that has so changed many of our lives. And there are many others in our communities who are on the verge of being behind bars because of lifestyle choices. Good “church people” are needed more in these places than they are in church buildings.
A prayer: Help us, Lord, to help those who need Your help.