By Joanna Delalande

The love of a father

“I didn’t ask God for justice, I cried out for mercy,” says Duche Bradley

father and child on beach

"I remember watching as my son was born," Duche Bradley recounts, "and thinking to myself, 'I'm always going to be here for you son. I want you to know I'll always be here. And I'll never leave you'."

"Boy, put your hands out the window of this car and climb out onto the ground or I'm going to blow your head off," the state trooper says.

Duche Bradley has been driving across the interstate, blocks of cocaine in the trunk of his car. "This time I knew," he says, "I had been caught red-handed. And I knew I was going to jail."

Duche doesn't know his biological father, so at 2am he makes his allowed phone call to the one person who always answers and always gets him out of trouble: his mother.

But she can't save him this time, so she cries to God and says, "God, if you exist, will you please help my boy?"

Duche is given a sentence of 25 to 40 years, prompting his fellow inmates to ask in astonishment, "Man, What did you do?" And all Duche can think about is his little son growing up not knowing who his father was.

"Growing up, the one thing that always sticks out to me is how desperately I wanted to have the love of my father," he says.

"I made [my son] a promise I would never leave him. And here I am doing to him the very thing I promised him I would never do."

One day an inmate punches Duche in the square of the back and Duche retaliates by trying to "break his head off into the floor of the prison".

"That was natural for me," he says. "I was angry, and anger always turns into violence for me, and violence always ends with me getting in trouble."

“This time ... I knew I was going to jail”But after the prison guards send the other inmate to his cell in isolation they turn to Duche and say, "You want to go to church?"

Church is just another prison cell, six by nine meters, Duche recalls.

The only other inmate in there with him hands him a small brown book, the Gideon Bible, and says, "You look burdened. Can I pray for you?"

As the inmate prays Duche begins to pray to God as a source of hope and comfort.

"My only prayer to God was before I went away, to let me go and say goodbye to my son. I didn't ask God for comfort or justice. I cried out for mercy."

What he received from God was more than mercy. It was grace; a totally undeserved love that changed his life.

Over their next phone call, his attorney tells him the DA has decided not to proceed with his case. He will never go to trial and never face conviction.

Twenty-five to 40 years in prison turn into two and a half.

"All I can remember is [my son] looking at me and the smile he got on his face when he saw his daddy, I lifted him up and he began telling me everything he had done since I had seen him last," Duche describes.

"I remember the great joy I got hearing my son talk to me, and knowing my son loves me and misses me. For me it translated into how God must feel when I reach out to Him."

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