The Other Charlotte has posted today on Ashley Smith, the remarkable Atlanta woman who spent seven hours talking alleged courthouse killer Brian Nichols out of taking her life and into waiting quietly in her apartment for his surrender to the police. (See Ashley Smith–Just Like a Woman today below.) I want to add a few of my own words, because I can’t keep Ashley Smith out of my mind. I’m literally moved to tears by her.
Smith not only saved her own life but Nichols’s as well. Such incidents–multiple public slaughters–almost always end in a shootout between the perp and the SWAT team that the perp can’t win. That’s a relief to everyone, because justice is done quickly. The killer pays immediately with his life for wantonly taking the lives of others–no protracted appeals, no efforts to claim the crime was actually society’s fault. But Smith did something else; by calming Nichols, by cooking him a pancake breakfast, by sharing with him things that they had in common–family and religious faith–she made it possible for Nichols to undergo spiritual redemption. She appealed to that sense of right and wrong inside him that even his career of appalling deeds–alleged rape and sodomy as well as Friday’s massacre–had not been able to kill. Nichols may well receive the death penalty for what he did–and if he isn’t mentally deranged, it’s a fitting punishment for the wanton multiple slaying of a judge, two others, and an FBI agent whose truck Nichols hijacked–but whatever should happen, Smith showed him that even someone who has committed the most despicable of crimes can be a force for good in the lives of others. And by urging calm surrender on him, not death by shootout, she gave him what he needed most desperately: the time to repent.
Ashley Smith’s is a story of incredible courage. An unarmed woman trapped inside her apartment by a known multiple killer armed with a gun and a hair-trigger temper, she kept herself calm by thinking about her own 5-year-old daughter and how much she wanted to see the little girl, just one more time, alive. But it’s a story of two other things as well. One of them is Smith’s born-again Christian faith. As the news stories have reported, while she and Nichols sat together in the long dawning hours of Saturday morning, she read to him from the Bible and also from California minister Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life, a collection of meditations for daily reading.
“The Purpose-Driven Life” is one of those books that the pundits of the mainstream media regard as a joke because its author is a Christian who believes in Jesus Christ. Just a few days ago, in a snide article expressing surprise, surprise that some evangelical Christians are actually well-groomed and well-educated, Washington Post reporter Hanna Rosin made this sarcastic comment about Warren’s book:
“Warren, who is a pastor in California, wrote ‘The Purpose Driven Life,’ the best-selling hardcover book in U.S. publishing history. There is only one way to find purpose: ‘placing our faith in Christ,’ by being ‘born-again.’ Period.”
Well, Ms. Rosin, that is exactly what Ashley Smith did. The words she read to Nichols suffused with faith in Jesus Christ transformed him. Smith herself, who had made her share of mistakes in life (her late husband apparently had gang ties, and she had drifted from waitress job to waitress job unable to support or live with her daughter), had been transformed by faith, her life given purpose Here is an excerpt from the transcript of her press conference (lifted from The Daily Kos, of all places) regarding the hours she spent reminding Nichols that he, too, still had a chance for a purpose-driven life by ministering to other inmates:
“But after we began to talk, he said he thought that I was an angel sent from God. And that I was his sister and he was my brother in Christ. And that he was lost and God lead him right to me to tell him that he had hurt a lot of people. And the families — the people — to let him know how they felt, because I had gone through it myself.
“He told me that he didn’t — he didn’t want to hurt the agent that he hurt. He begged and pleaded with him to do things his way, and he didn’t. So he had to kill him.
“He said that he didn’t shoot the deputy [critically injured in Friday’s courtroom melee], that he hit her. And that he hoped she lived.
“He showed me a picture of the — the agent that he did kill. And I tried to explain to him that he killed a 40-year-old man that was probably a father, a husband, a friend.
“And he really began to trust me, to feel my feelings. He looked at pictures of my family. He asked me to — if he could look at them and hold them …
“I really didn’t keep track of time too much, because I was really worried about just living. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want him to hurt anybody else. And I really didn’t want him to hurt himself or anyone else to hurt him. He’s done enough — he had done enough. And he really, honestly when I looked at him, he looked like he didn’t want to do it any more.”
“He asked me what I thought he should do.
“And I said, ‘I think you should turn yourself in. If you don’t turn yourself in,’ this is what I said, ‘if you don’t turn yourself in, lots more people are going to get hurt. And you’re probably going to die.'”
Our intellectual elite tells us that religious people who take their faith seriously are either hopeless simpletons or dangerous fanatics. Ashley Smith made us ask who the real fanatics are.
Ashley Smith’s story, as the Other Charlotte so shrewdly points out, is also a story of women’s power. The feminist ideologues inform us that women’s power lies in having exactly as many female scientists as male scientists on the faculty at Harvard or exactly as many female-written op-ed articles as male-written articles in the Los Angeles Times. Or in earning 100 cents for every dollar men earn, making your husband do half the housework, or donning black leather and becoming a sexual dominatrix. Ashley Smith told us something different: that women gain power over men–absolute power–by touching their hearts. In her warmth, her tenderness, her faith, her willingness to see that Nichols was her brother, her fellow human being, Smith literally disarmed him. As the wee hours of the morning passed, they talked about Nichols’s mother, and Smith probably reminded him of the mother who loved him unconditionally even in a world where nearly everyone justfiably loathes and fears him.
One of the surprising things about Smith’s story is the reaction of the left. I linked onto this post by ultra-liberal blogger Daily Kos, expecting to read Hanna Rosin-style mockery of evangelicals, Ted Rall-style bashing of Smith as a publicity hound, and such. But except for a few snippy comments from readers about the “Bible Belt” and a from-left-field dig by Kos himself at Rush Limbaugh (of all irrelevant people), there was nothing but respect for this valiant woman. Ashley Smith, what good you have wrought.