Sunday, January 27, 2013

On Forgiveness


On Forgiveness

Prior to the meeting and dialogue between my intern, Chad Davis, former police officer Greg Nash and myself, I had prepared to answer an array of questions about what the Guilford College Higher Education in Prison Initiative is. I was prepared to defend statistics, research, evidence and even my compassion. I was prepared to be strong, and to defend the very morals that surround my integrity around this program’s purpose.

To a small extent the conversation explored dynamics of the initiative but more so, it developed into themes of very real human emotion and condition.





Greg came to speak about his personal stories, insights, and interactions with people while he was a police officer and did so with poignant, powerful conviction.

There was a point in one of his stories about a nineteen year old boy when I noticed a dissonance. Sitting there, I saw a man conflicted with compassion to want to see those in prison flower; transform through education. Yet a soft skepticism was apparent in his eyes and bowed head when he recalled the story of how he had tried so much to help so many young men just to see them continue to make the same poor choices.  

He questioned themes of worthiness, punishment and forgiveness towards those who have committed acts that he personally found to be unforgiveable.

Many arguments he raised were sound opinions that have been expressed in several forums against providing higher education to incarcerated persons. I found it compelling to hear these arguments in a different tone, with a softer but nonetheless strong sentiment. They were not just ignorant statements; they were real emotions expressing a desire for hope and compassion for rehabilitation for victims and offenders but skepticism and hesitation towards a holistic process of transformation, reintegration and forgiveness.

In my developments a comprehensive understanding of victims, offenders and the community’s perceptions of this initiative has been a strong driving force to its blossoming. This initiative’s main objective is to provide an education to those incarcerated although I am convinced that a greater culmination of transformation will transpire.

In order to heal; as a victim, an individual, an offender, a society: in order to restore victim-offender crimes and social ills that often-time provide systemic foundations to crime, it is with great importance and care to hear varying degrees of perspectives and work towards reconciliation and reparations…towards forgiveness.

For the rest of the day after the interview, questions of forgiveness and redemption stuck in my head.

To be sure, forgiveness is a very complex matter, and “just forgiving” can’t be tantamount simply to extending forgiveness in response to an offender’s confession; nor can “just forgiving” be tantamount to a victim’s generous offer of mercy to an unapologetic offender. There are many moving stories of offenders seeking and finding forgiveness in the course of truth and reconciliation proceedings, and there are profound stories of victims unilaterally forgiving their unremorseful, unrepentant, unmoved offenders. While some of these very one-sided stories eventually reach good outcomes, many are left unfinished and unresolved. However, even when incomplete, one-sided forgiveness seems better than no-forgiveness at all. Forgiving someone seems to open a tiny crack in the wall of human indifference, injustice, and violence that lets the light of redemption get in – even if the offender turns away.

What I am realizing more and more through stories, in myself and providing transformation through restorative justice by such practices as education is that forgiveness is not an entitlement or something we may or may not deserve-it is only a gift that you or I can give. Forgiving is offering that gift in response to people who directly or indirectly offend, insult, or injure us, so that we and they might find redemption and that our bruised and broken relationships might one day be restored, in ourselves and our communities.

I am grateful to Greg and those willing to share their stories; for allowing the opportunity to hear truthful convictions of the heart. It helps to conceptualize the very real fears and apprehensions people have when trust, in any relationship is broken, and how the road to redemption, reparation and forgiveness may be sought but is not one that is easily traveled.

Yet, necessary for healing.


Letter of Apology

I apologize to my victims and my family because my criminal behavior changed their lives unfairly forever.

To the victim(s) of my crime(s)

As I sit down to write my apology I find myself overwhelmed with guilt, shame, and uncertainty. I must admit that when I was first incarcerated I felt sorrier because I was caught than I was about what I had done. I truly did not connect with the pain that I had caused my victims.

While sitting in maximum security, a man that was assisting my lawyer with my defense came to see me. He had been interviewing my family and what he found out about my mother’s death shook me to my core. My mother died when I was 7 years old. I was told that she had died from cancer.

So, I grew up believing that my mother died from cancer. My visitor told me that some members of my family believed that my mother may have been murdered, I became very angry. I wanted to know why my family had never told me this. When I called home my grandmother told me that she was sorry for not telling me but because of my fragile mental state after my mother’s death they(my family) thought it would be best not to tell me until I was older. As I got older she said that the timing was never right.

My grandmother went on to tell me that a man that I had known all of my life as “Uncle Sonny”, may have killed my mother. I was so angry that I wanted to kill him because he had taken my mother away from my brother, sister, and me.

Later that night when I was alone in my cell it hit me. The rage that I felt, the anger I felt, the loneliness I felt, all of the emotions I felt made me cry uncontrollable. All of the days as a child, that I had wished God would wake my mother up and send her home to me came flooding back. I knew then that my victims must have been feeling the same way. I knew then that I had become like that piece of garbage that took my mother away. I knew then that my victims must think the same of me.

I wish that I would have never committed my crimes that caused so much pain to so many and for that I am truly, truly sorry.

I pray that my apology gives my victims some comfort in knowing that I accept full responsibility for my actions. In addition, I reject the criminal lifestyle that poisoned my mind.

Therefore, with that being said, let me ask you now to forgive me for the pain that I have caused you. If I could I would not hesitate to take this back and I will never ever do anything like this again.

To my Family

I apologize to my ex-wife, children, parents, grandparents, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins for the hurt, pain, shame, and embarrassment that I caused all of you through my criminal behavior.

There are no words strong enough to express how regretful I am for committing my crimes. My behavior was inexcusable and totally contrary to the way I was raised.

I can only hope that one day I live up to the expectations you have of me.

Please forgive me.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Meeting Day

Meeting Day
December 21, 2012   

There are moments in our lives that will forever leave their footprints embedded in our memory. Visions of no particular significance to others than yourself; or to more than we recognize.

Suspended in time. Never changing but forever changing the being within us.

For me, the day was bitter cold. The wind beat the breath from my words. It was so forceful; one might think it was pushing me; holding me back from where I longed to be.

I can confidently say, many don't long to be inside a prison.

But this is the day I have worked for. A meeting. An opportunity to articulate through words the plight my heart has gone through to advocate for those incarcerated to have the opportunity to achieve an education.

I do not think my heart has beat any faster or harder than on that morning. I could feel my footsteps in my shoes but only feel my heart through the rest of my body.

I looked ahead and saw the American flag; symbolic freedom.

I looked ahead and saw concrete poised in bleak defiance; a guard towered within its stone wall, stood picturesque at his post

I looked ahead and saw the quintessential fence; an infinite iron guard bound by razor wire. A reminder that upon passage all dreams are deferred; a labyrinth where souls separate; the time served is merely a hurry up and wait.

Where displacement begins to feel like home.

The razor wire reflected the sun on that cold day. An ironic reminder, of what light can do to the most dismal circumstance.

Closer still. My mouth was dry. My eyes were wet; by the bitter wind that showed no mercy or the heavy anticipation, I have yet to decipher.

Inside, the facility was no warmer.

There were no smiles to greet you at the door or cheerful hellos.

The keepers and the kept displayed the same disposition; dutiful and irritated complacency.

The walls spoke an institutional beige

The floors an eerie, shiny clean; mirroring the fears and faults in the bowed faces of its trespassers.

My colleague and I stood waiting; anxious to meet, and collaborate our long awaited efforts with the Man in charge. The superintendent in charge of the facility met us after we passed through metal detectors, a pat down and inspection of our personal belongings. We shook hands and exchanged introductions. We were led down a corridor, again after showing identification two other times.

It was quieter than I expected. Only the soft humming of fluorescent lights and the wind howling against the windows.

There was small talk to fill the awkward walk and silence.

"So how was the drive...?"

"Greensboro huh...?"

Past office cubicles and doubtful looks of wonderment

we reached the meeting room.

Here was the moment I had been preparing for.

Reviewing notes, conversations, emails, letters

Reflecting to the stories of men and women and their families

Harboring sadness and fire to make smooth a dent the gavel of justice left in its wake

In my own way; to fight for reformation, transformation, reconciliation, education

The dialogue which occurred was draining. There were points, I felt that he only wanted to argue as to why it was impossible, regardless of the research, regardless of the ready professors wanting to drive an hour to teach, a willing academic and rigorous institution, funding and any and everything in between.

He sat stoic, back in his seat, arms crossed, looking dead at us for almost thirty minutes of what seemed like a losing negotiation.

Then something changed.

He relaxed, grabbed a pen and paper and started to take notes, asking us questions.

He seemed to come alive in the description of courses such as Restorative Justice and Community Problem Solving.

What was the particular phrase, or word? What reached in and touched him to open up and see our dedicated intent?

Maybe I will never quite know. Or maybe I already do. We did not shake under pressure; under scrutiny. We shook his hand, smiled and looked him in his eyes, and when we wanted to cower in the presence of intimidation (intentional or not) didn't.

I remembered who this was for. This was not a time for me to be afraid in my uncomfortableness. This was not about me, and it will never be just about me. It's about the people who need my help in anyway I can give.

After an hour more of speaking of the logistics of the initiative, we were given a tour of the possible classroom. On the way through the corridor, to the right there was a board with pictures of men wearing their caps and gowns, having attained their G.E.D's. The smiles in those pictures were the only ones I saw that day.

Education is transformative bringing light to the darkest places, empowering the person deemed voiceless with words strong, loud and brilliant.

I had the opportunity to speak with one of the incarcerated men sitting in the classroom. (Whom, configured the data system for the technological backup!)

At the end of our short conversation, he thanked us for our efforts and expressed extreme interest in enrolling if the site is approved. He left us with this:

"In prison, in life too, but especially in prison, you need two things: God and an education. One for the soul, the other for the mind. The two places they can never lock-up."

I left that day, more anxious than when I arrived, believing more in something I thought I could believe no stronger in.

The wind met us at the door again and

In the impoverished glow of cold times; like the sunbeams through the panes in December I felt the heavy reminder of brightness, luminous hope...

warmth, compassion and love.

And we keep moving forward.



Plow ignorance from its roots to sow seeds of transformation.

Bloom of aspirations; hold your head up enough to see the sky and feel the breeze kiss your lips. renewing caged words, written across the heart

Warmth is the nourishment; weathering the blunders of your heavy heart of time and its terms

Do not lay subdued in the capture.

Lift your head higher and kiss the sky with knowledge and imagination: it is only simple bone, blood and flesh they keep.

I speak with breath that is true; there are ones that keep on fighting. Empathetic to your plight, of Oppression and culturally deprived minds.

Those who are foot soldiers for reform; the peacekeeper in chaos.

Allow yourself to be deserving of your dreams, fill the air with light and fire and ideas, these cannot be arrested.

And in solidarity, the stance is strong to educate and erradicate the callousness of injustice

Know that inside, your mind strengthens beyond the bars that confine you.

On the outside your life will be lived in the years your children learn of your struggles, demons and the myths of social darkness

That sacrifice made of humanity, to be numbered; to count the tic tic ticking of your youth building a home in your memory

will not be in vain

For eyes that are forgiving, acknowledge who sings the song of heart for reconciliation against those who air the dust to dirty the panes....

for peace in chaos


(Fellow contributor to this piece is Veteran United States Coast Guard, Good Conduct Award Recepient and current Communications major at University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), Chad Davis. Mr. Davis is currently an intern through a consortium with UNCG and the Higher Education in Prison Initiative at Guilford College.)