“What I would like people to see in him is the person he had become – not the stupidest thing he ever did.”
Matthew Sleeth, Melbourne artistwho worked with Myuran Sukumaran.
For the last few months, I’ve been anxiously following the pending executions of convicted Australian Drug smugglers, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Although I’d considered their actions incredibly stupid at the time of their arrest, as I learned of their radical transformation inside prison, my attitude changed. I, like so many others, sought clemency and did what we could to get behind the campaign. For me, that was very little but I did write to my local Member of Parliament and I posted this on my blog:https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/02/19/brain-plasticity-two-australians-on-death-row/
Meanwhile, I watched as a pack of fiercely loyal and determined supporters fought for clemency like dogs pursuing that proverbial bone. Throughout this campaign, the men admitted and owned their crime and nobody denied that they’d done the wrong thing. Just that they had changed and didn’t deserve to die. It is my understanding that their lawyers were seeking a reduction in their sentence to life in prison.
Self-Portrait by Myuran Sukumaran
After all, since being incarcerated, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were changed men. Not just on the outside, but in their hearts and in their souls. Both men became Christian and Andrew Chan became a Christian Pastor while in prison. While being Christian is no guarantee of perfection, the men had definitely changed: inside and out. Myuran Sukumaran became an accomplished artist under the mentorship of Ben Quilty and Matthew Sleeth and shared this gift with other prisoners. Both men have also helped their fellow inmates to reform and change their lives by teaching them life skills, so they too could be reformed and return to their communities better men.
On 29th April, 2015 those hard fought hopes were completely dashed when Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were executed by a firing squad on the prison island of Nusakambangan at 3:35am AEST.
Although I’d been anticipating the worst, there was still that glimmer of hope. However, then news reports showed coffins bearing their names and date of death, forecasting the very worst. I could sense that rising tide of incredible despair and dashed hopes. Even though I hadn’t been following case closely until recently, I had become emotionally involved, getting those awful, sick in the depths of my stomach feelings. As far as I’m concerned, you didn’t need to know the men to have a heart for their situation and to hope that against the odds, things might just turn around.
As long as there was life, there was hope…even if it was fading fast.
Portrait of Andrew Chan by Myuran Sukumaran.
Against these increasingly bad signs, we still clung to hope by our very fingernails. Surely, the Indonesian President would finally see reason? He would have the courage and capacity to change his mind and to acknowledge that these men had reformed. That they were no longer the two young criminals who had conspired to smuggle heroin into Australia.
It wasn’t looking good.
I guess for so many of us who could see and understand how much these men had changed and how they were now contributing to the world for good instead of bad, this was hard to understand. That, although they shared the same name and the same skin as the men who had committed this very serious crime, they were, indeed, different. They were new creations. These men no longer deserved to die.
That is, if they ever did.
Yet, despite trying to move incredible mountains and the Indonesian President, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan were executed. They are dead and their bodies returned to Australia for burial on Saturday, ten years after their arrest.
What does this mean now? How are we to understand and process their deaths? Were they martyrs? Heroes? Modern Ned Kellies? (Ned kelly was an Irish-Australian bushranger who was hanged for his crimes but has become somewhat deified)
Or, indeed, were they vile criminals whose intent to import heroin into Australia could have ruined so many Australian lives?
I don’t know but many have done far worse and never paid for their crimes…just received a slap on the wrist!!
One of Sukumaran’s last paintings depicting the bullet hole through his heart.
This case has certainly publicised the death penalty, which is probably something your average Australian has given much thought. That is, since competing in their high school debating team. We don’t have the death penalty here so it’s not an issue that crops up all that much. Prior to this case, I certainly hadn’t given it much thought.
However, given my unwaivering faith in humanity’s capacity to change, I can not support it.
That is because I truly believe that everybody has the capacity to change and even radically change their lives if they want to. This isn’t change being enforced from the outside in but rather coming from the inside out…from the heart. The science of neuroplasticity has also proven that even changing our thoughts, can change the very physical structures of our brains.People can and do change. The trouble is that we then need to forgive and give people a second chance, which is not so easy or so straightforward.
We all know someone we have loved and cared about who has been troubled either by mental health issues, drugs, addiction and yet we’ve been absolutely powerless to save them from that relentless downward spiral. At this point, it is so often said, that they have to hit rock bottom before they get back up. That the only way they’re ever going to wake up to themselves and all that they’ve become, is for them to face the music…whatever that might be. Sometimes, people can somehow exit the spiral before they land in jail, commit suicide or indeed, attempt to smuggle drugs out of a country with the death penalty. However, sometimes they keep going and going to a point of no return. They reach a point where it’s very difficult, if not impossible,to return. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad people or they come from bad families. Perhaps, they’re just sheep who have wandered too far away and get captured by the wolf (in whatever guise) before making it home.
If we are truly honest with ourselves, we each have a dark side. All have sinned. While there is a huge difference to holding a party when your parents are away versus smuggling heroin out of Indonesia, it’s still breaking the rules.
So in the wake of what is a tragedy on so many levels, I hold my own children close to my heart and in my prayers. They need to understand that there are consequences for their actions and know that no matter how much you try to undo the past, sometimes what’s done is done. Prevention is so much more effective than depending on a cure…an undoing. Sometimes, no amount of undoing can rewind the clock and you do end up paying the ultimate price.
This was also the message which Andrew Chan left for his baby nephew Kai:
“I love you Kai, keep looking to Jesus, trust in his ways and learn from my mistakes. ”
There is much debate in Australia about how these men should be perceived. While I don’t want to put them up on a pedestal, these changed men truly became an inspiration. Despite living under the omnipresent shadow of the death penalty, they turned their lives around showing that no matter how bad it gets, even as a convicted drug smuggler facing the death penalty, you can still change your heart and live for good and even preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. You truly can be a new creation!!
Michael Chan, Andrew’s older brother, described his last moments:
“He said there were three things he was going to do — he is going to sing all the way there and he done that and he said he is going to wear his Penrith jersey and he is not going to wear the blindfold, he is going to look them in the eye. He did all of them.”
Michael said knowing how his brother acted in the final hours and minutes made the horror of what happened more bearable.
Michael said hearing about his brother’s bravery, courage and dignity in the face of such a dreadful end had brought a rare smile to mother Helen’s face in what has been a nightmare ride.
“That put a smile on her face to know those hours leading up to it that that’s what he did and how he held himself,” he said .
It is still too soon to appreciate their long term legacy. In the short term, the Australian Ambassador to Indonesia has been recalled. Moreover, a strong campaign to fight the death penalty, particularly in Indonesia, has been mounted…the Mercy Campaign http://mercycampaign.org/
As Andrew Chan said:
“This campaign is more than just about myself or Myu. It represents a second chance and forgiveness, it represents kindness and help for those in a helpless situation. Mercy represents all of us here.
I would like you to take a moment and reflect just on the word mercy. Please don’t let this just be about myself and Myu, but about others all over the world who need your help.”
— Andrew Chan
This quest has been taken up my artist Ben Quilty. He wrote this message on his Facebook page:
“Joko Widodo tonight you will kill two good men, my friends. I want you to know that you may take their freedom and their lives, you may rob their fellow inmates of the support and love that both men have offered and provided for so long, you can turn off Myu’s imagination but you will never kill the memory of them. I have promised Myu and Andrew, their parents and their siblings, that I will fight against the death penalty for the rest of my life…”
So after considering their crimes, their radical transformation, and their horrific deaths, I am reminded of the words of Moriah Carey’s “Hero”. Not because I see them as heroes but because as reformed men facing their crimes and their deaths, they were heroic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IA3ZvCkRkQ
There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are
There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away
And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you
It is my heartfelt prayer than anyone considering trafficking drugs will learn from their example and do whatever it takes to pull back and walk away. Live for good. Know to look after your body, mind and spirit and think about how you are attacking yourself through drugs and then also putting your family and friends through hell as well. Also, offer others that same respect and don’t see selling drugs as a way to make fast money. All too often, it ends a one-way mission.
Meanwhile, my heartfelt condolences go out to the Chan and Sukumaran families, their legal and spiritual teams and those close and dear to them who fought so tenaciously for clemency. You never gave up. I also think about the many, many people around the world who have been touched by their lives and their deaths. Just because we do not know them or their families, it doesn’t mean we do not care!I send you my love.
Love & God’s richest blessings,