|The pastor and the painter, Bali Nine ringleaders Chan and Sukumaran.|
Written April 29th, 2015 – Reprinted again today for the first anniversary.
Several times over the past few days I had listeners challenge me as to why I don’t believe in the death penalty. I fumbled my way more than I wished through explaining the lack of any evidence that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to crime.
I then (again, maybe a fraction too verbosely) explained that the death penalty is by no means a cheaper option than life imprisonment (it costs a fortune to legally put someone to death). Next I tried articulating my belief in a person’s shot at redemption, even those who commit devastating crimes. Yes, even people like this can sometimes change their ways and help others who have so too gone down the wrong path.
And then I gave in and said that ultimately, it’s in my bones that the death penalty is wrong. Even for the most heinous people, even for the most heinous crimes. It’s in my bones. But what I should’ve said is that through it all, I still believe in Amazing Grace. To a lesser, less exulted extent, I also believe in the often amazingly graceful writing of Sorkin, as in Aaron Sorkin.
So with that in mind, first here’s that final gut-wrenching scene from episode 14, season one of Sorkin’s The West Wing from back in 1999. It’s where President Bartlet (played so brilliantly by Martin Sheen) grapples with his priest about having not pardoned a criminal on death row. Secondly is a clip of Glen Campbell not only singing Amazing Grace, but playing the bagpipes on the song as well. Hairs on the back of the neck stuff.
And finally, let’s hope the story of the pastor and the painter who once were blinded by drugs but could eventually see, even seeing the faces of those who gunned them to death in an Indonesian firing squad, teaches us a thing or two. The pastor who for years had preached to fellow prisoners and was married on the second to last day of his life. The painter who rallied against the drugs and gangs that dominated prison life at every level by establishing an art room, a T-shirt printing facility, a computer centre and a silver shop.*
The pastor and the painter are Australians Andrew Chan (31) and Myuran Sukumaran (34), better known simply as the ringleaders of the Bali Nine. At 12:35am on April 29 they were shot dead, alongside six others on death-row at the Indonesian prison island of Nusakambangan.
May we better understand the destruction of drugs, better understand the corruption of justice systems that turn a blind eye to the infiltration of gangs and drugs into the police and army*, better understand the cancerous pain of killing – even state sanctioned killing – and better understand the power of redemption. A better understanding of our own potential hypocrisies mightn’t go amiss either: being morally outraged at Indonesia while having little regard for Australia’s own questionable human rights with regards to asylum seekers detained on offshore islands.
It’s well known Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukurmaran repented their crimes, became model prisoners and provided guidance and inspiration to countless fellow inmates during their decade of incarceration. Thoughts with any victims of their earlier crimes, thoughts with the families of these two ultimately fine young men and may they both rest in peace.
Afterword: Sukurmaran and Chan both sang Amazing Grace as they died.
*”One of many of Indonesia’s infuriating hypocrisies is that much of the its drug trade is controlled by the police and army (which is why low level smugglers are the only ones ever prosecuted). Drugs, and the gangs who sell them, are rampant inside prison. Sukumaran himself stood staunch against both.” – Michael Bachelard, Sydney Morning Herald, April 30, 2015