In the days and hours leading to Matthew Eric Wrinkles' Friday execution, a small cadre of faith counselors has been helping prepare the condemned man for death.
"No one ever knows for sure what's on somebody's mind, someone else's heart," said Deacon Malcolm Lunsford, of Merrillville's SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church. "But I firmly believe that Eric is ready."
Wrinkles -- whom his spiritual advisers say goes by his middle name -- is scheduled to be executed early Friday morning at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.
On death row for nearly 15 years, Wrinkles will become the first person executed in Indiana since 2007.
"Eric really believes in the mercy and love of God," said Bishop Dale Melczek, of the Catholic Diocese of Gary. "He is very peaceful in facing his death. Spiritually, mentally, emotionally (he is) in a very good place."
For years, Melczek, Lunsford and the Rev. Thomas McNally, of the Congregation of Holy Cross in South Bend, have traveled countless miles to meet with Wrinkles.
"I could never look to Eric now and define him by what he has done in his past," Melczek said. "He, like everybody else, is completely able with the grace of God to repent, to become a better person."
Wrinkles was sentenced to death in 1995 after being convicted of murdering his wife, her brother and her brother's wife.
Wrinkles is "absolutely not" the same person he was when he passed through prison doors more than a decade ago, Melczek said.
"He has tried to live his life, especially the last nine or 10 years, as positive as an influence as he could be," the bishop said. "We have in Eric the perfect example of (someone who) has undergone a complete conversion. He certainly has repented of his past actions."
The clergy members described Wrinkles as an intelligent person, a passionate Catholic and an avid reader, especially of the Bible.
"It's hard to understand how he ever got to where he is," Lunsford said.
Lunsford describes his time with Wrinkles and other inmates as a "two-way street" in terms of what the deacon takes from the visits.
"At times like this, it's hard," he said. "But I firmly believe that I take more from prison than I go in with."
Wrinkles has bolstered Lunsford's role as a man of the collar, helping him be more patient and not judge people's actions, Lunsford said.
"If somebody did something in there, I'd take exception to it," Lunsford said. "(Wrinkles) would always say, 'You don't know the whole story.'"
Wrinkles spiritual advisers say that especially in his last days, Wrinkles has transformed from condemned man to a counselor to other inmates and loved ones.
When Lunsford took his wife and other volunteers to meet with Wrinkles on Tuesday night, it was Wrinkles who provided the soothing words.
"When we left, he was the one counseling them, 'Be strong. It's going to be OK,'" Lunsford said.
Lunsford and McNally will administer Wrinkles' final sacraments, said McNally, who has known Wrinkles for about five years.
"We're going to do the best we can to help him in his final hours," McNally said.