Always impeccably dressed, with beautiful jewelry for every occasion, Chris had been married to a prominent attorney, and the two of them were well known in the Milwaukee area. They had been charter members of many conservative churches, the last being a large church on Milwaukee's far west side. Chris was outspoken, bright, and well-read. She prided herself in being ferociously independent. She was also dying of AIDS.
She had contracted the AIDS virus from her husband, who had led a secret life as a homosexual for more than twenty of the thirty-seven years they had been together. He was now in a hospice in Ohio. She harbored so much rage and anger toward him, it spilled over and contaminated the rest of her life. Sometimes when we were praying, her rage would flare up, and we'd have to stop. She couldn't go any further..
Because she spoke Spanish, I asked her to help us minister to the Spanish-speaking inmates. She said yes right away.
In Gatesville, Chris was assigned a room with volunteers Carol Harris, who lived in Milwaukee's central city and came from a different ethnic and cultural background. Despite the sharp contrast, Carol would have a profound impact on her life.
During that particular weekend, our emphasis was on forgiveness. After interpreting one of the small group sessions into Spanish, Chris walked up to me, crying. "God set me up for this, Linda. These women have been so abused, and they're the ones telling me about their guilt." Then she added, laughing through her tears, "And, of course, I have a couple of girls struggling with homosexuality. Can you believe this?"
After the final morning session, I had the volunteers bring their small group to the front. As Chris interpreted into English her group's thanks to her and their appreciation of the freedom they'd received, she had to allow long pauses to maintain her own composure. Before leaving the unit that Sunday, Chaplain Crosby arranged for Chris, Carol, and me to go to Death Row.
As we prepared to leave Death Row, Karla knelt down beside Chris and prayed for her. She didn't ask Chris any questions; she just wanted to extend love to a hurting new friend. The walls of Chris's heart fell.
"If God could love these women and forgive them their horrible and unspeakable crimes, the He must also love my husband and extend His forgiveness to him too," Chris realized. And this time that truth seemed enough.
Soon after that, Chris's husband died in a hospice in Ohio.
Four years later, in 1994, I answered my phone on a hot June day. It was Diana Keough, Chris's daughter. Diana lived in Ohio, where I knew Chris had been visiting the past few weeks. Now she was telling me that Chris was ill..After a week in the hospital, she was diagnosed with cancer and sent to a hospice.
The three weeks spent with Chris and her children, awaiting her death, remain a treasured memory. Chris would ask to hear the tape of Carol singing "Holy Ground," and other great hymns, over and over again, every day. And Diana asked her to retell her encounter with Karla. One night, as all of us held hands and prayed around her bed, she opened her eyes and remarked. "This is so wonderful. Am I awake or am I dreaming this?"
Once Chris and Diana had been estranged, but now their relationship began to heal. Diana stayed with her mom from early morning till late at night, bringing her water, fixing her pillow, attending to her every need. One night after leaving the hospice, we talked for over an hour in the parking lot. She told me, "For the first time in my life I know my mom likes me."