While their exploits ruined not only their lives but the lives of all those caught up in their operation, over the past ten years we have watched as they lived out their sentences for their drug smuggling endeavours. We have heard of their subsequent transformation and their acts of kindness to fellow prisoners that brought light and life into such a dark place.
Then, as they seemed to be getting their lives back on track, we responded with anger, sadness, and horror knowing that their transformation seemed to count for nothing as their executions went ahead.
Lives were made good. The deaths of these two men stirred the heart of Australians even though thousands of people are executed across the world each year.
Writing in defence of their new scholarships, Australian Catholic University Vice Chancellor Professor Greg Craven, clarified that the awards are not in memory of drug runners. “Let’s be quite clear,” he wrote, “the scholarships will commemorate the two men but the University has never proposed they be named after them.” They commemorated men who met their deaths “reformed, redeemed, courageously and uncompromisingly human.”
The personal transformations of Chan and Sukumaran inside prison resonates deep within the Australian psyche and I wonder if it has something to do with our convict past.
As a country founded by convicts sent from England to Australia, our foundations were built by many who were given the chance to begin again despite previous mistakes. Rehabilitated convicts contributed significantly. Thus there was the transformation of a penal colony into the nation of Australia in little over 100 years. We hold deeply that those who turn their lives around should be given a second chance. Since Chan and Sukumaran were denied this, we are outraged.
There is something of the gospel is all this. God is the God of the second chance and significantly Chan and Sukumaran knew this. In the midst of the recriminations, the international political debate and emotional outpouring, they faced death singing songs of praise including Amazing Grace and Bless the Lord, Oh my Soul.
They like many others who have had their lives cut short, though not glad about it, are hopefully confident that death is not the end that despite the lack of clemency here on earth, God has granted it to them and they can die in peace. Death is not the end but a channel into life. Rather than loss, it is gain.
May God grant us the same peace in the midst of sadness as we all face our own deaths.
Stephen L Baxter