The story of a man I meet and became friends with while in Atlanta.
Fernando was released roughly 4 months ago and declared innocent after spending the lion share of his life in the notorious Sing, Sing prison in upstate New York. He spent an unreasonable 18 and a 1/2 years of his life inside the beast, but God.... I meet a man during this past few days that has been more than set free from the steel and concrete that housed him. I meet a man free'd from the bindings that often threaten those of us who have been through the hells we have as the innocent.
In Fernando, I saw a free man. I meet and came to know a free man.
What did I see that would make me want the rest of you to know him and stand beside him? His joy. His unselfishness. His infectious personality and smile. He came to this years National Innocence Conference in Atlanta and, from the start, came with humility and life. I also saw excitement that lives in the moment.
I'm in no way saying Fernando has arrived and has been perfected. He's a work in progress....just like the rest of us. I'm just saying that the progress that I witnessed this weekend within Fernando was amazing and full of God's grace.
This past Friday night, after we sowed up the first official day of the conference, we all went to a club and celebrated our shared freedom and success in the innocence movement. There were at least 83 innocent men and women present (including myself) and over a hundred volunteers involved in innocence projects throughout the country and abroad represented at this party. There was food...a nice lay out of pork, beef, cheese, sausage and onion sticks. There was music...and then there was Karaoke.
About an hour into the festivities, Fernando had requested and talked me into singing Billy Joel's "Innocent Man" with him. That's right people. Fernando got me to do Karaoke. In truth, I can only claim the assist, but....I'll take what I can get...lol.
Fernando is a man on fire for life. He invites others into his fire. He had some others share in the experience of singing an "Innocent Man" as well. It was a real moving moment. He had the whole room lit up, participating and singing together.
Getting to know him has been a blessing. I'm sure it will continue to be. Learning from him and experiencing the conference weekend with him and others has been a rewarding experience.
This evening into this morning, he and I went out dancing with a group of others and had a blast. We didn't get back to the hotel until past 3am. We all came back exhausted and ready for sleep, but we all came back speechless and appreciative of the fun we had dancing to what turned out to be a pretty wild mix of 70's and 80's jams in a downtown Atlanta club.
Fernando has a saying. I'm not sure if he knows he says it or not. I'm not sure if he knows the impact it has had on me as his new friend. "What a day!" "What a day!" Indeed, Fernando. What a day it has been for the past few days getting to know you.
Thanks for being my friend.
Please. Do yourself the honor of reading through these links and listening to the others. Look into what God has done. You'll be better for it.
Please, keep Fernando and the many others like him that I've come to know in your prayers.