Yesterday a man was released from prison in California after a judge determined he had been falsely convicted. Daniel Larsen was sentenced to 27 years to life in 1999 under California’s “three strikes” law after being convicted of illegally carrying a concealed weapon. Larsen claimed that a knife found under a car at the scene of a fight was not his but was thrown under the car by another man. No one actually saw Larsen with the knife. Larsen served more than 13 years of his sentence before a judge ruled that Larsen is “actually innocent” of the charge, thus freeing him. For more detail on the story, please go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/20/daniel-larsen-freed_n_2916889.html
While Daniel Larsen was not guilty of the crime for which he was imprisoned, he is a twice convicted burglar. The previous convictions resulted in Larsen receiving a much harsher sentence than one would expect for a concealed weapons violation. Still, Larsen was not guilty of the crime he was charged with and I am thankful that he has been rightly released.
I have been thinking a lot about wrongful convictions in the past few weeks since I watched the movie ‘The Next Three Days.’ In this movie, Russell Crowe plays the husband of a woman convicted of murder on the basis of circumstantial evidence and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Crowe is absolutely convinced of his wife’s innocence and exhausts all his resources and legal options in an attempt to have her conviction overturned. When all his efforts fail, he decides to break her out of prison. I won’t reveal any spoilers–the movie description tells you everything I have mentioned. It’s an intense, dramatic movie, and I highly recommend it.
Watching ‘The Next Three Days’ got me wondering how I would cope if I were falsely convicted of a crime. I’m certain that I would not want to my loved ones to attempt to break me out of jail. Committing a crime and risking innocent lives is not the way to right a wrong. Of course, I would want my family to exhaust all legal options to secure my freedom, and I would pray that God would intervene on behalf. But, what would my atttitude be? I would hope that my attitude and my behavior would point others to Jesus Christ.
The Bible is full of examples of godly men who were imprisoned, enslaved, or murdered when they had done nothing to deserve those fates. Joseph comes to mind as an exemplary role model. Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and later imprisoned after being falsely accused by his master’s wife of making inappropriate advances. Yet, Joseph honored God in prison. We read in Genesis 39:21 -23 “The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”
Because Joseph honored God, God honored Joseph. Eventually, Joseph was released from prison and elevated to the second highest position in the land. Joseph could look back later in his life and tell his brothers that he forgave them and that his imprisonment was part of God’s greater plan. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
Of course, I hope and pray to never have the experience of being falsely convicted of a crime and imprisoned. However, if it did happen, would have the faith and trust in God to view it as part of His larger plan? Would I use that time to share God’s message of mercy and His plan of salvation with other prisoners? Would I be able to focus my attention on heavenly goals, knowing that what happens on earth is but for a moment, but that which glorifies God has eternal value and significance?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, and I truly don’t want to find out. However, every day I have the opportunity to find myself in circumstances that are less than ideal. I need to view every circumstance as an opportunity to share the love of Christ with those whom God puts in my path. Whether I am confined to a jail cell or a hospital bed or a desk at a job I don’t like, I am free to be all that God has called me to be in my present circumstances.
I rejoice that Daniel Larsen has found earthly freedom. I pray that while he was in prison that he had a real encounter with Christ and that he experienced true freedom even while still incarcerated. Today we all have the opportunity to chose true freedom in Christ or bondage to sin. If we know Christ as our Savior, we have the opportunity to look at every circumstance as a chance to share Christ.
How do you think you would respond if you were falsely convicted of a crime?