In the Lectionary

November 26, Reign of Christ A (Matthew 25:31–46)

Do we understand how our actions may shape the fate of a neighbor?

His name is Henry James. Henry was only 20 years old in 1981 when, after helping a neighbor repair his car, he was misidentified as the man who attacked that neighbor’s wife. Although the woman initially stated that she didn’t know her attacker, she later picked Henry—a neighbor with whom she was acquainted—from a photo lineup. The evidence that would have exonerated him—results of serological testing that excluded him as the attacker—was not presented to the judge or jury by Henry’s court-appointed lawyer.

Henry was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison without parole for a crime he did not commit.

For the next 30 years, Henry persevered through the harsh conditions of the Louisiana State prison at Angola. For about ten of those years he labored in the prison fields, from sunup to sundown, picking cotton, potatoes, tomatoes, okra, cabbage, greens, and other crops, earning a maximum of four cents an hour. (Because the 13th Amendment abolished slavery “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” Angola’s wage is believed to be legal.) He tried to avoid any infraction that could land him in solitary confinement. For 30 years, he missed out on his children’s lives and on finding a vocation for himself.