The Other Inmate

A certain man called Bernhardt was sentenced to twenty years in prison for crimes against others and the state. Defiant at first, he cursed the prosecution for tarnishing his character, the jury for believing them, his defense attorney for failing to prove innocence, and the judge for taking away his freedom.

The same day he entered prison, another man was confined to the same cell. He introduced himself simply as Joshua. Otherwise, he seemed unusually closemouthed about his background, his family, and even what he had done to earn incarceration.

But over the next twenty years, Joshua became something of Bernhardt’s therapist, allowing him to talk through his problems and even reserving judgment when Bernhardt confessed that the blame for his crimes fell to no one other than himself. They became inseparable as Bernhardt selected a work program and learned to develop skills and become someone that could bolster society rather than just take from it.

When the twenty years neared its close, Bernhardt prepared for his appointment with the prison’s board to evaluate his readiness to reenter society and pursue a productive life. They had the power to assign Bernhardt to further payment for his crimes. For some reason, Joshua hadn’t been in the cell this morning, and no one seemed to know where he was. Bernhardt wished he were there to provide some moral support. But no—he must face the prison board alone.

When he entered the meeting room, one other man sat in a chair facing the board’s table, wearing a fine suit. Hearing Bernhardt enter, he stood and turned. With a gasp, Bernhardt recognized his fellow inmate, Joshua.

Joshua grinned, shook Bernhardt’s hand, and welcomed him. “I have been selected to advocate for you,” he said. “I think we have a good case.” Bernhardt failed to find words.

No one sat at the table before them where the prison board should have been when Joshua proceeded to read a statement arguing that Bernhardt had acknowledged his guilt, felt remorse, and worked to become a new person. He rehearsed many of the personal things that Bernhardt had said and many of the good things he had done. “I have become close friends with this man,” said Joshua, “and with all my heart I find him ready to be a free man and enjoy all the benefits of such.”

Then Joshua walked around to the other side of the table and assumed the position of the prison board. “I have heard your statement and your case,” he said. “And I certify that he is ready to be a free man and enjoy all the benefits of such.” He brought a gavel down on the table and signed a form. Then he came around the table, embraced an astonished Bernhardt, and with a broad smile led him out of prison into the waiting, sunlit world.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on

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