The Duke Lacrosse Case and the Black Hole
By Fr. Robert J. Carr
The indicted Duke University lacrosse players have a mighty battle ahead of them. However, it is important for them to understand now what their true enemy is during this time. First, if they are guilty, the worst thing that can happen to them is the not-guilty verdict. That is because, they would mostly likely reoffend and mostly likely in a more heinous way. If they are innocent, however, the worst that can happen is not that they be found guilty, but that they go into a deep emotional hole from which they do not escape.
The current accusations against them are a serious trauma to the psyche of any person. If they are not guilty, that trauma alone may still lead them down a dark hole to bitterness. They must do all they can to never go down that hole.
As a priest at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston during the abuse crisis, I worked with some victims and accused. I found that true victims have no desire to see the wrong man in court. I also found that those wrongly accused can be reduced to emotional rubble.
The most vibrant of men can become a slave to a telephone, holding it dearly everyday in one hand while chain smoking with the other. He will sit there in his own invisible prison, hoping the phone will bring the news that his trauma was nothing more than a nightmare and that it was over. That is the black hole and once there it is hard to get out of it.
People who go down this hole get so focused on exoneration on their terms, that if anyone shows them another way out of their predicament they refuse to listen. They become like someone in a three sided cage demanding that the door be open so they can walk out. They remain completely unaware that there is no back to their prison. All they need do is let go of the bars, turn around and walk away. They refuse. Such people become myopic to any other reality and essentially become so obsessed with their dilemma and their solution to it, they lose the ability to see their reality in any other way. They cannot move beyond the incident and they become crippled in their ability to do anything but lament and spiral deeper into depression and bitterness. This is the worst thing that can happen to anyone going through this process.
What is the way out? This is where faith is so important. First, they must understand what they have today. They must live forgetting tomorrow. The words of Saint James in his epistle can be life giving:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (Jas 1:2-4 NIV)
"Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' " (James 4:14-15 NIV)
Their situation will greatly overwhelm them several times during the day. The more they can discipline themselves to enjoy every little element of life that leads them away from thinking what may happen, the better off they will be. The reality is they have no idea what actually will happen, they can only work with what may happen, focusing on that unknown, however, is no way to live. The "what ifs" obsessive thought pattern in that focus can be as crippling as any disease. They need to avoid it as much as possible.
They need to learn to praise God for everything that happens in their lives. The more they see God as only present when things go right or pray that God will answer their prayers as they want them answered, the more they will go down the dark hole. They need to pray that God will work through this situation in a way that glorifies his name and brings them closer to him and, therefore, where they can experience true joy. They need to be people of prayer. Merlin Carothers' book, Prison to Praise may be the most important literary work they can read during this painful time.
They need to be repentant and to be honest about their own sins especially those which allegedly put them into a location of alcohol abuse and the presence of a stripper. Ray Bradbury in his book Something Wicked This Way Comes demonstrated well the false promises of evil and its destructive effects. Similarly, when you put yourself in the presence of evil, you risk the chance that it may hold you so tightly that only God himself can free you.
The accused can fight this battle on many levels, however, the most difficult part of this endeavor is the internal battle for self-control of their hearts and minds. Presently, their lives are in the hands of the prosecutor, their own defense attorneys and eventually the jury. This will be the most painful part of this process. Indeed, in my work with court involved young adults, I found that the worst part is not the prison time, but the court time beforehand. The court is impersonal, neither supportive nor rejecting, it is just a systemic operation that turns the human into a cog in a machine. Their lives, though not ruined, are on hold until the jury gives its verdict.
If they walk in faith, they will survive. If they walk on their own, they may end up in the dark hole of a three sided cage. Those three sides are far more imprisoning than four walls of concrete. Their supporters must not let them or anyone else enter that painful space, guilty or innocent.
http://www.revrobertjcarr.com MA, US
Fr. Robert J. Carr - Priest, 617 230-3300
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