There's a Mark Twain quote I read once that goes like this:
"But who prays for Satan? Who in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most, our one fellow and brother who most needed a friend yet had not a single one, the one sinner among us all who had the highest and clearest right to every Christian's daily and nightly prayers, for the plain and unassailable reason that his was the first and greatest need, he being among sinners the supremest?"
- Mark Twain
I read this while looking for a different quote, but to be honest, I can't remember the quote I was looking for, while this one was burned in to my memory. I felt a very clear understanding in that moment that Mark Twain was really on to something. This idea of praying for that one being who has never done a kind thing, never engendered kind feelings, and had caused hurt to many really shook me.
At that time in my life, I'd been learning a lot about why people end up doing certain things; why people have the propensity for addictions of many kinds, why people become manipulators for attention, why some seem to surrounded by drama all the time. I learned that there were really times that people fell in to horrible behavior patterns because they were trying to soothe deep, deep hurt. And the patterns they chose were so deeply ingrained they they had no idea why they were even doing what they were doing. In some ways, they were blind. I'm not going to sit here and try to say that I was (am) not one of those people. I've certainly learned a lot, and worked very hard to uncover my patterns, and I know there is more work for me to do. I've had issues with food, relationships,...my iPhone (but I digress)... All that time when I acted in ways that might have hurt others, or hurt myself, I had no idea. I absolutely thought I was doing the 'right' thing.
And so, now, with more awareness, more understanding, with my eyes, if not wide open, then certainly not closed, I see with fresh eyes that those people who look like the darkest of sinners, were holding a world of pain inside. And I feel a lot of compassion. Certainly, if people do wrong and victimize others, they should be held accountable. But perhaps penalization after penalization, vilification after vilification is not the way to get these people to see the error of their ways. For, if one doesn't know better, how can s/he do better?
For example, say a young man grows up in a terrible neighborhood and robs people, assaults people, carries and uses weapons. He's arrested and sent to jail, then he gets out and does the same stuff all over again. He's arrested and goes to jail again...and gets out...and gets arrested and goes to jail...and...you get the picture. In many ways, he's only doing what he knows. In his neighborhood, most of the young men were doing the same stuff. He never had a role model to teach him about dealing with conflict in a healthy way. No one ever taught him how to feel his feelings. People will say, "C'mon, he should know better. That's an excuse if you're 10 but not if you're 30." But how was he supposed to know to do better? Who was making his situation in the neighborhood better when he got there, even after prison? Everyone else is leading the same lives they did before he went away. And now he's right back in it. There's no catalyst for change, rather, the catalyst is to do more of what he used to, but now to be smarter about it and hide his tracks better.
What he really needs is to learn a better way.
For my part, as a person who does pray, I would pray for this young man. I would pray that the wisdom he needs to see the error of his ways is shown to him and he learns to live his life in a healthier way. But not just for people who offend and go jail. There are many ways to sin without going to jail. I propose compassion for all of them. For really trying to see that there's a hurting being inside. I'll be honest here, I'm not saying to go out and befriend gamblers, alcoholics, drug addicts right now, but what I'm saying is that hurling insults and degradation at them is not doing anything to make an already hurting individual any better.