This morning I notice the headline in the Star Tribune about Glenn Ford who has served 30 years in prison, most of that on death row, in Louisiana for a murder he did not commit. There is a strong Minnesota connection. Here is the first paragraph of the article from the Star Tribune’s website.
For years, when she’d walk into her downtown St. Paul office, criminal defense lawyer Deborah Ellis would see a photo of Louisiana death row inmate Glenn Ford perched at eye level on the reception desk. It was “a reminder to fight the good fight,” she said. On Tuesday night, Ellis watched on television as Ford, 64, walked out of Louisiana State Prison in Angola. He was one of the longest-serving death row inmates in U.S. history to be exonerated and released. “I’ve been crying ever since,” Ellis said.
Most of us would still be crying if we were that invested for such a long time in such a difficult, frustrating, exasperating challenge. But it’s not her tears as beautiful as they are that I want to draw your attention to. I don’t want to talk about what this might mean to reforms to our justice system, the death penalty or the racism that led to Mr. Ford’s conviction in the first place. Although these are important and may be the stream you need to follow in your reflections upon this.
Maybe another time I’ll reflect on what Mr. Ford said which included, this honest and heart retching comment. As Ford walked away from prison late Tuesday, he told a local TV station, “It feels good,” but acknowledged that he feels some resentment because “I’ve been locked up almost 30 years for something I didn’t do. I can’t go back and do anything I should have been doing when I was 35, 38, 40, stuff like that.” And when asked what he was going to do he said, “I’m going to get something to eat.”
Today it’s Ms. Ellis’ response that inspires me:
“it’s a reminder to fight the good fight.”
The article said that Ms. Ellis had been working on this case since 1990. Can you believe that? Believe that Ms. Ellis could believe something so strongly that she was willing to invest what must have been so very much not only professionally but emotionally. The stakes could not be hirer, the cause no greater; a man’s life is at stake, the cause of justice, her life’s work, in the balance.
All of us need to be reminded to fight the good fight. There are things in life worth the hardship, frustration and disappointment of continuing to struggle with; there are things worth our tears. One of the things about this story that inspires me is that Ms. Ellis was inspired by another lawyer her mentor, who worked just as hard on this case but died in 2007 and did not live to see Ford walk out of prison.
A life of faith often requires the strenuous understanding that our struggles are reassured in a future generation.
Ms. Ellis’ story illustrates struggle, what some might call suffering, which is redemptive, emancipating, freeing. And it’s not just Mr. Ford who is freed, although that is the most important thing in this story, It’s also Ms. Ellis and all of us who believe that there are fights worth fighting, beliefs worth believing, people worth loving, churches worth attending, lives worth living even when we are not the ones liberated from the prison or who get to see others walk into a new life.