Commentary: The Forgiven

By Mary Johnson and O’shea Israel


As we each prepared to enter the visitation room of Minnesota’s Stillwater state prison for men in 2005, one from the visitor’s side, one from the inmate’s side, we were both nervous, and found ourselves full of caution. For each of us, the biggest question was: Is forgiveness possible between the mother of a murdered youth and the teenager who took his life?

That meeting was the beginning of a unique partnership. We have cried together, healed together, talked and listened together, and found that simple conversations can change lives. Together, we speak to churches, schools, prisons and conferences. Our message is that violence can be prevented and that it is possible to live with forgiveness, no matter what has happened to you.

We usually avoid the specific details of that night in February 1993, when Laramiun Byrd lost his life. It’s too painful for any mother to relive. A 16-year-old killed a 20-year-old at a party, and Mary lost her only child. To be a grieving parent is the worst human pain, and we are both aware that healing and moving forward will never completely erase that hurt.


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