Throughout my incarceration, I’ve spent quite a lot of time with inmates who will never be getting out of prison. They have been sentenced to Life without the possibility of parole — known as LWOP. There is a wide range of attitudes among them as to how they view the future. Some have stopped caring or trying, while others work tirelessly to better themselves. Some have faith in an afterlife that will be much better than this world, and others believe there is nothing at all after death.
Unfortunately, among nearly all of these inmates with LWOP, there exists a general sense of sadness from knowing they will never again be free in this life and the rest of their days will be spent in captivity. Even the most motivated and positive among them understand that no matter how much they change, how much good they do, or how much they learn from their past, they will never be free again.
I have felt their sadness as they speak of this reality and express their desires to not continuously be punished for a major mistake in their life so many years before. Whether or not LWOP is an appropriate sentence for their crimes is a discussion for another time and a different forum.
Recently, I have found myself thinking of their situation and feeling deep gratitude for the knowledge that I can someday get out of prison, even if it is years from now. The inmates with LWOP would never ask for my sympathy, but I do feel bad for them.
As I ponder on their dilemma, I can’t help but notice parallels between their situation and what my life would be like without the Atonement. If Jesus Christ did not die for us, suffer for us, and atone for our sins, each one of us would be sentenced to LWOR — Life without the possibility of Repentance. Without his loving sacrifice, it would not matter what we did to change, or how righteously we tried to live. We would all be held accountable and punished eternally for every sin we committed, no matter how long ago. It would not matter if we had learned from our mistakes. Personally, I have made serious mistakes in my life, and without the Atonement, which I can not even comprehend, I would be condemned to an eternity in bondage and captivity.
When I feel the despair those LWOP inmates are experiencing in relation to their mortal lives, I feel so grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I don’t need to have that kind of despair for my eternal future. I am so thankful that Christ has given me, and each of us, the opportunity to change, to learn from past mistakes, and to be clean again. I can’t even imagine how it would feel to live a life without the possibility of repentance. Thankfully, I don’t have to.