Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, “An atheist is a man with no invisible means of support.”
A couple of weeks ago I was half paying attention to a documentary about a maximum security prison while folding laundry. They were interviewing a 25-year-old “lifer,” and he mentioned that he used to be on death row but his sentence was commuted to life without parole. The producer asked him to describe what it was like to be released from death row.He gazed into the distance and responded, “You can’t imagine. When you’re on death row, it’s like you’re already dead. You try to play cards, but you hear that clock ticking in your head, knowing that the date of your extinction has already been set, and now it’s just a matter of days and minutes. You could read a book, watch some TV, but why? You’re gonna die soon and can’t take none of that stuff with you, so it doesn’t really matter anyway.” He got choked up as he added, “I got my whole life back when I got off of death row.” As I folded a t-shirt I nodded knowingly, subconsciously reacting to his description in a spirit of camaraderie. I instinctively viewed him as someone with whom I had a shared, rare experience, knowing that the producer and the viewers of the show could never imagine what it was like because they hadn’t been there like we had. I stopped cold with a shirt half folded in my hand when I became aware of my reaction. Where did that come from? How on earth could I, a middle-class girl who’s never even been to the county jail, have the faintest idea what a former death row penitentiary inmate was talking about? And then I realized: because when I was an atheist, I lived on death row.