Can a man change?

You’ll have probably seen the fuss in the UK media over the failed deportation of Learco Chindamo. He’s the person who a decade ago murdered Philip Lawrence, the headteacher of a Maida Vale school. The fuss around his deportation is over the interpretation of the Human Rights Act which states that Chindamo, like any other European is entitled to the right to a family life, a right which would be abused if he was deported back to Italy after his sentence was served. Chindamo left Italy when he was six and speaks no Italian – his entire family live here, apart from his father, but no-one’s seen him for years.

“Aah yes”, go the critics, but Chindamo is a threat to the public so that over-rides his rights. You can’t murder and continue to be violent and insist on your human rights. Off he goes to Italy. Except that some people, including the deputy governor of the prison he’s at, believe that he’s a reformed character and unlikely to pose a threat to the public. His lawyer sang his praises:

“He has spent time in prison speaking to other people who have come in, younger people quite often, who he sees have committed offences of violence, trying to tell them how stupid they are, they shouldn’t throw their lives away like he has thrown his away.”

So who’s right? This is the core of the legal argument and the appeal judges sided with Chindamo’s barrister. When he’s released on parole he’ll stay in this country. Cue the high level of moral outrage from politicians and tabloid editors of all political shape and colour.

Now you know me, I’m as conservative as they come, happy to debate both the Bell Curve (not in favour of) and the Laffer Curve (fine by me). You might even push me as far as to contemplate bringing back the death sentence. Yet, and this does pain me, this morning I find myself curiously agreeing with the leader of The Independent, that bastion of all things liberal and ungodly. Robert Verkaik, the Legal Editor, writes:The decision provoked outrage among the Lawrence family, ministers and the Conservative Party, whose leader, David Cameron, described the case as “a glaring example of what is going wrong in our country”.

But should Learco Chindamo be given a second chance in British society?

Prison reports show that the 26-year-old Londoner has made excellent progress and in many ways has become a model example ofcustodial rehabilitation. Those who have worked with him during his sentence regard him as a model prisoner who is very unlikely to re-offend.

His solicitor, Nigel Leskin, said last night: “He is a genuinely reformed person and one of the best prisoners the prison has had. He knows he made a terrible mistake and regrets it very much.”

Such comments from the young man’s chief advocate are perhaps to be expected. But there is also hard evidence that Chindamo has already begun to make a contribution to society by helping other prisoners.

“He tells other youths that they should learn from his mistakes and have the strength to not be so stupid. He does as much as he can in prison but his progress has been hampered by moving him to a closed prison,” says Mr Leskin.

Should he be released, Chindamo has said he wants to continue this mentoring work with members of inner-city gangs. At a time when the headlines are dominated by references to “anarchy” and “knife crime”, such a commitment, if genuine, could be invaluable.

Frances Lawrence’s admirable campaigning against violent crime and for better support for children from disadvantaged backgrounds has ensured that her husband’s death has rarely been out of the news. Now Chindamo is back in the headlines, most of them expressing outrage at the possibility that he could remain in Britain. Is it too much to hope for, or aspire to, his full rehabilitation in the country where he caused such pain and grief?

You know, he makes an excellent point which Christians should be agreeing with. If we believe in redemption, in the flight from sin and the restoration of human beings then surely Chindamo is such a person?

You see, we all I hope freely admit that most men are emotional numpties. They get themselves in all kinds of complicated, unpleasant situations because they don’t know how to handle their feelings. That’s why, for example, the occurrence of sexual dysfunction of one kind or another is much more prevalent in men then women. For example, all the best research shows that homosexuality exhibits itself at almost a double rate in men then in women. Yes, on the whole boys and men don’t handle feeling very well and in pushing them down they exhibit the tension in other areas. Like, for example, joining gangs, getting involved in a macho culture and ending up getting egged on to kill someone because to say no would be to loose to much face.

Last night we went to see License to Wed , wondering whether we could pick up any marriage prep tips. In the film the character Ben almost loses his wife to be because he is unable to write down the vows he wants to say on the day of the wedding. It’s not that he doesn’t know he loves his fiancée, it’s just that having XY chromosomes he is incapable of saying it properly. He’s not alone. How many blokes do you know who are incapable of sharing their deepest feelings? Get a bunch of girls together and they’ll chat about their lives, their spouses, their feelings and emotions for hours. A bunch of guys get together and the football on TV goes on and the conversation stops.

So where does this leave Chindamo. Well, when he was a teenager he was an emotional numptie like the rest of us blokes (though of course some of us were particularly more numptie then the rest of you, but that’s another story). His particular pain led him down a very wrong and damaging path, but by all accounts (like Ben in the film who ended up scrawling his vows in the sand below Sandy’s window – everybody now go gushy) he is working through his stuff and is now ready to be an adult in an adult world. Is it too much to ask then for a belief in redemption and restoration?

Apparently not, and I think the general clamour for continued vengeance against Chindamo  (a vengeance that comes from another aspect of emotional numptieness – the inability to forgive) will prevail and he will be shipped off to Italy. I hope not, and I pray that both the appeal ruling stands AND that we manage to have a proper debate on the subject of forgiveness, restoration and redemption. After all, vengeance belongs to the Lord and he has a curious habit of being both just and loving by taking righteous vengeance upon himself so we can be freed from enmity and instead practice grace and forgiveness.

Which is far better for all in my humble opinion.

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