In Paul’s letter to Timothy, we hear Paul giving advice to his young assistant to “keep alive the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, Spirit fills us with power, love and self-control.”
I have a story to share with you about a friend of mine who used this power within, the strength that God gave her, to get her through an extremely difficult situation.
Her name is Panna. I met her 7 years ago at York Prison for Women. Panna is a prisoner at York Prison. Panna and I volunteer in a program called Alternatives to Violence. This international program was created by the Quakers in 1975. Panna works as a volunteer facilitator from within the prison. I am a facilitator living outside the prison.
The basic concept of the Alternatives to Violence Program is that we all have the power within us to “realize our birthright of peace and dignity”. It involves a “faith in oneself and a belief that there is a moral goodness in humanity”. Doesn’t that sound like the same thing that Paul told Timothy – “For the spirit that God has given us does not make us timid; instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love and self-control.”
I have come to know Panna as a loving, kind, patient and extremely positive person. She has been an inspiration to our team and to other inmates as well. Panna’s outlook on life and self-determination came as a result of practicing every day to come from a place of “power, love and self-control”. She has been a role model for me to recognize this power within myself so that I can come from a place of love; so that I can use my God-given power to make better choices, to make loving choices.
At the age of 17, Panna did not make a good choice. She was sentenced to 18 years at York Prison for manslaughter. While in prison, instead of feeling down about herself and instead of feeling angry, Panna took advantage of every program that York had to offer. She knew that this was an opportunity to learn to forgive herself for what she had done. She prayed that others would forgive her as well.
While Panna thought seriously about what she had done – every day, she also did not let it define her. She was not that mistake. Her choice to do what she did, although it was under extremely harsh circumstances, was only a moment in time. In that moment, that split second, she made an unlawful decision. She came to realize through prayer, counseling, self-help groups and a positive attitude that while she acknowledges that she made a bad decision, that while the results of this decision would be with her for the rest of her life, she was not going to let this decision be the essence of who she was. The essence of who she is, is God and love.
Because Panna powerfully used the strength that God gave her and because of her faith in God and Jesus, Panna was recently granted a clemency hearing. Now you might say, ‘how could anyone grant her clemency for manslaughter?’ In 2006, Panna was tried as an adult instead of a 17 year old juvenile. The penalty for adult manslaughter is a longer sentence. Juveniles are given lesser sentences due to their immaturity, incomplete brain development and roller-coaster emotions. For some reason, Panna was given an 18 year sentence which was the most ever given for the circumstances of her crime. No one has ever been given that sentence since for the same crime, before or since.
Three weeks ago, Panna was granted a clemency hearing. This is a very rare occurrence. She was granted clemency and was released this past Friday. She served 9½ years. I believe that she was given a second chance because through the strength that God gave her, she was a model prisoner. Her belief in herself and her sorrow for what she did allowed her to emerge as a loving, positive child of God. She earned her reward.
Let us always remember the words of Timothy – we all have the “power, love and self-control” within us to continue on this journey of life with strength to overcome obstacles. Let us tap into that strength, like Panna did, to see us through on this journey.