Forgiveness is a funny thing. It is easy to suggest that someone forgive someone else. However, when you or someone you love has been wronged, forgiveness is a harder pill to swallow. For a family to forgive you when you have committed a horrific act on their kin is an amazing act of love and generosity. This is the story I wish to share with you.
After looking at the ordeal of trial and the hardships on everyone involved, I decided the best avenue for me and my family was for me to take the plea offer that the court system had offered me at the time. That plea was for 17 years at 100% in the State of Tennessee Department of Corrections. Facing 17 years seemed like a lot of time for someone who committed a crime carelessly, but not intentionally. However, on reflection I had to realize that I took a person’s life who had no idea what was about to happen that horrific night. I am not the heartless individual that the news media labeled me. I would give the shirt off of my back for anyone in need.
The day came when it was time for me to accept the plea agreement from the courts. Upon entering the courtroom I turned my head to the left to recognize my family, and on the other side of them was the victim’s family. It hit me hard seeing their faces filled with emotion and intently looking at me – the person who took their daughter’s life. The courtroom was filled with news media and supporters for my victim. When it came time for me to face the judge I realized that my destiny was in the hands of this man. He read me my rights and made sure that I understood that the plea offer was voluntary and that I did not have to accept the deal. I told him that I fully understood and that I wished to accept the plea agreement. He read me my rights, I agreed, and thus began my years in prison.
Before I left, the Judge asked me if I had anything to say. “Yes I do, Your Honor.” Everyone in the courtroom got quiet as I turned around to face the family who were there to be the voice of their daughter and to see that justice was served for her. I started tearing up as I said the words, “I am truly sorry and please forgive me.” Then the court officer placed the handcuffs on me and carried me out of the courtroom and placed me back into the holding cell. Shortly afterward, the court officer came to the door and said, “You have visitors.” As he put his key into the door to unlock it and open it, I saw the family members of my victim coming into the cell with me. At first this made me quite scared and nervous, so I held my head down in shame and sadness for what this family had to go through. Amazingly the mother of the victim asked the court officer, “Can I give this man a hug?” The court officer replied, “Go ahead.” So I stood up and the mother put her arms around me and laid her head on my shoulder. She said, “I want you to know you are forgiven and all of us here forgive you.” She then went on to say everyone at their church was also praying for me.
I never imagined that the strength that I needed to go to prison and face that time would come from the victim’s family. It has been the foundation of every positive experience I have had while being incarcerated. It has allowed me to forgive myself and realize that I have a responsibility to be the kind of man that society would welcome as a neighbor. I cannot change the past, but I can live out my future in remembrance of those who so lovingly showed me mercy.
by A Forgiven One