From the depths of despair,
murderer turns to Christ
and sacrifices his own life
By DEACON ED SHEFFER
Special to The New Vision
A call is made by a Deputy Warden in the middle of the night: “Hello Mrs. P, Jeremy’s body was found by a guard very early this morning in his cell and he was unresponsive, your son is dead. I’m sorry, that’s all I can tell you at this time.”
Jeremy and church didn’t go too well when he was a young boy. In early adolescence he started experimenting with drugs to mask negative feelings. He also began to feel quite depressed and anxious. It didn’t take long for him to start to get into trouble.
In an effort to put his past trouble behind, his mother moved to Flagstaff. At fifteen, he met Sherris, a new girlfriend. He started using marijuana again, but soon it wasn’t doing the trick, so he stepped it up to amphetamines, and reached the point where crystal meth became the choice drug. With the addiction came greater instability. It manifested itself into psychosis, overdoses, and a suicide attempt.
Jeremy ended up in emergency rooms, psych wards, and in and out of rehab centers. On one of his relapses, he was so out of it he stole a snow plow, smashed into someone’s house, stumbled into the home, and was almost shot. He passed out in the driveway and was arrested.
Under a court-ordered directive he entered into counseling, and for a while he stopped abusing drugs. He attended AA meetings and worked the “twelve steps.” He got to the ninth step (make amends with those you have wronged), and contacted his old girlfriend, Sherris. He made amends, and they ended up back together.
By this time, Jeremy said, she too had entered into the nastier side of the drug world and was unstable herself. The doctor treating Jeremy prescribed a stimulant in an effort to stabilize him. He began to grow more unstable, and on Oct. 17, 2006, he visited his therapist and expressed thoughts about hurting people. He was driven home by his case worker, and two hours later went into a psychotic rage, and killed Sherris. He was sentenced to life in prison.
One dark night in his prison cell, he fell into the depth of emotional pain, thinking about how he killed the woman he loved. Life seemed hopeless. What was the point to his life? Pain, guilt, and self-loathing reached a fever pitch. Jeremy was as broken as a man could be.
Later awaking from a dream, he uncharacteristically cried out to Jesus, with all his heart and soul. He begged Jesus for forgiveness and for the crushing pain to be lifted. A moment of peace came to him. It had come in a way he had never felt before. No way could he comprehend it all. He began to realize something though; all the pain he was feeling and all the pain he had been a part of bringing to others had led him to a point where he needed Jesus. In his darkest moment Jesus came to him, because Jeremy was ready to come to Jesus.
In July of 2009, I received a call from Jeremy’s mother. She had heard about the ministry work I was doing with some men on death row. She told me that her son was searching for God and was looking for instruction in the Catholic faith.
Jeremy and I began to correspond and see one another. It became clear to me that his journey had reached a point where he hungered for his sins to be washed away. And he was ready to begin to die to himself and live in and through Jesus. He desired a true and lasting relationship with Jesus.
We began to have a deep spiritual dialogue. It was clear that he was starving to get his head and heart around the fuller sense of the Catholic faith. He took it upon himself to seriously delve into the Catechism, Church history, and teachings of the Church. He devoured all of the Little Rock Scriptures studies I had arranged to be sent. He was able to recite both Creeds by heart, knew the Ten Commandments, the seven deadly sins, Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be.
And on a deep level he began to discuss what each of them meant and what it all related to.
In other visits he wanted to discuss the differences between mortal and venial sin, as well as Catholic Social Teachings and the saving grace of the Seven Sacraments. experiencing God’s saving presence. The Magisterium has defined that the Seven Sacraments are absolute signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.He prayed the rosary, read scripture daily, reflected on the liturgical readings, and he had taken upon himself to follow the Liturgy of the Hours.
Jeremy could not run away from the hard realities of his life though. When first arriving into prison, because of the psychotic episodes, he was put into protective custody. Being put into PC brings a stigma in the prison world for an inmate, and leads to serious repercussions.
Because of HIPPA laws, an inmate’s “walking around paperwork” cannot reveal the medical reason for protective custody, so it is assumed one is weak, and/or is someone who has informed on another inmate.
In every prison there is a world beyond the official institution world, an inmate world where an inmate is in charge. This person gets to see every inmate’s “walking around papers.” There is no way around this, because this is one of the ways he controls the inside world of the prison. And this person always gives a “green light” to straighten out and/or kill an inmate coded with PC on his papers.
The other fact is that the girl Jeremy killed was best friends with the girlfriend of a very high-level drug dealer. This brought its own special penalty, a contract to end Jeremy’s life. Plenty of the drug dealer’s cohorts are inmates in the Arizona Department of Corrections and are put on alert to carry out the pact.
I believe that excerpts from some of Jeremy’s correspondence to me tell the rest of the story in a very profound way:
10/1/09: It is sad that things had to get so bad before I was open to the love of Jesus, but it is my reality. What a mystery how God can bring good out of darkness.
12/4/09: I know I deserve hell. I feel like there is a wall separating me from God. Like all the evil I have done is covering and suffocating me. My guilt is healthy. I should feel guilty, but I am overwhelmed by a debilitating feeling of unworthiness before God. I take full responsibility for all my own actions. … Spiritually there is a very real struggle, I fight for my soul. The battle between light and hope I have in Jesus with the despair and self-loathing, the awareness of my sin consumes me. My hands are covered in the blood of the woman I loved.
1/5/10: I do my best to follow Christ in this environment, applying the Gospel to this place and its situations, isn’t always easy. I am not one for moral relativism, but in this place I find so many situations where I don’t know what the right course of action is. Seeing God’s will in this volatile place can be challenging.
7/18/10: I may have found a saint who I believe is a great example who was not conquered by darkness … Maximilian Kolbe. I can relate to him for several reasons. You see I am first generation Polish American. My Dad, Aunt, and Grandparents are political refugees who stood up against Communism in Poland. … In my journey with Christ I cannot think of anyone I can relate to more as a patron saint than Maximilian Kolbe. He faced unspeakable evil with courage and was not conquered by it. On the contrary he overcame evil with love.
9/6/10: … my deepest heartfelt thanks to you and Bishop Kicanas. … Experiencing the Mass and receiving the Sacraments was beautiful and intense. … I was so overwhelmed with so many emotions. … I feel a peace, confidence, and singleness of purpose and direction I have never known and I am ready to face the tribulations that are coming. I feel strength, purity, and my spirit is freed from a tremendous burden I have been carrying.
1/3/11: … when you make certain mistakes in here you can be sent on missions to ‘clean it up’. They send you to attack people they want hurt and your situation is rectified and you can live in peace. I will continue to stand for Christ and I refuse to do evil so that good will result for me. After all “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I believe God is allowing me the honor of suffering for Him and is teaching me and refining me. Whether sooner or later I will be attacked … I will continue to do what’s right and leave the rest in God’s hands. I am hopeful I can ask a favor of you. … My family knows I am in trouble in here, but I try not to let them know to the extent of it, because I do not want them stressed out and worried about me. I have put them through so much and it saddens me that when I start being attacked they will go through more pain, but I won’t clean it up to save myself. … if they end up killing me … can you please tell my family I love them and let them know I could have cleaned it up by hurting people but that I stood for Christ regardless of the cost. I want my family to know that I finally lived as the person they raised me to be. That in the end I did what was right.
3/2/11: I was wondering if it would be possible to have Masses said for my deceased girlfriend Sherris. I pray for her every day, but I know there is nothing more efficacious than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I don’t think I shared with you the dream I had some time ago around the time of my conversion. I dreamt that she told me “Jesus Christ is Lord.” It was a powerful dream that I wholeheartedly believe to be a private revelation, and it impacted me greatly. Needless to say, I want to help her in any way I can.
4/17/11: … a thousand times thank you for visiting and bringing me the precious Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus to me. There are no words that express how much it means to be able to be sacramentally united to Christ in the Eucharist. I pray every day God’s abundant blessing and grace may be upon you for how you help me and the impact you have had on my life. Thank you also for the reality check on being a man of peace. I have many voices coming at me advocating the necessity to use violence to protect myself, and it is all too easy to be sucked into the prevailing mentality … I also had a realization about how our sins could hurt an omnipotent God. … I understand clearly how our sins hurt Christ in his Passion. The realization I had is that because God exists outside of time; and past, present, and future are all present to Him at once, then Jesus’ sacrifice is always before Him, hence with every sin I commit in my present, in God the Fathers now, they are imputed to Christ. So, basically, every sin I commit now, my sins are being laid upon Christ in His crucifixion. This was a powerful realization for me.
On May 31, 2011, Jeremy was killed at the age of twenty-five. He was violently struck over the head and in the chest area of his heart with a blunt instrument.
Personally, I had much more to say to Jeremy’s parents, than your son is unresponsive and dead:
Jeremy died a Roman Catholic, a man ready to come to Jesus. The twists and turns of Jeremy’s life did lead to some dark places, but the journey led in the end to his awareness of the meaning of life.
His greatest need became sharing in the love of Jesus. He wants you to know your love all those years made a difference, that in the end he chose the highest level of right. And his love for you endures!
My participation in the life of your son Jeremy is a blessing to me. I went to places spiritually with him that not everybody gets to go to. I had a front row seat, watching a love relationship with Jesus grow. I witnessed him and the Bishop on their knees in a cell, separated by bars, tears streaming down Jeremy’s face as he received the Sacraments.
I was inspired by your son’s hunger for Jesus. Inspired also by how his personal experience with Jesus changed him. I bore witness to the reality of the Eucharist being food for his soul. I can attest to a man deemed lost saved by grace, becoming the best version of himself.
In the end Jeremy chose to love God, to love himself, and to love humanity with all its failings. He gave up his life revealing the deepest love possible: There is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for another.
Editor’s note: Deacon Ed Sheffer is pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Tucson. He has served in several ministries, including the Detention Ministry, which he said began as a personal request from Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas. He and his wife Anne Marie have two children.