Today, nearly five years from the day I was told I was being paroled after serving 19 years in prison, I found myself searching for my parole papers. As I searched through the footlocker that contained my journals,personal letters and legal documents, I was stopped in my tracks by the letter that set me on the path of transformation. Dated July 31, 1997, exactly 6 years and 3 days after David’s death, it remains just as powerful and meaningful to me today. It is by far one of the most influential letters I received in my life and guides the restorative justice and criminal justice reform work I do. Here is the letter in its entirety.
A few days ago it was the 6th year anniversary of my son’s death. I call him my “son” because he lived with me much of his life.
I’m sure you remember him in some way or another because you are the man who murdered David ******** on July 28, 1991.
It was a very difficult day for me and my family. I had spent 3 years being a caregiver for David’s mother, and she had just died of cancer in December of 1990. And now, 6 months later, I received a phone call that David was dead.
His brother was devastated. To this day, he says he didn’t only lose a brother — he lost his best friend.
David had a new baby son which God blessed him with-the baby was only 10 months old in July, 1991. David never got to see his son celebrate his first birthday- or any of them- And it was also a very painful day on July 28 because it was my daughter’s birthday. She and David were born only 3 months apart. Every year on her birthday, our hearts ache for the dear one we’ve lost.
David also had 2 daughters. One is now in college, and although she is a very bright girl, she is having terrible bouts of depression because her dad is gone. The rest of our family tries to help her but there is an emptiness in her life that no one else can fill.
Now what I want you to know, other than these painful things that you have brought upon my family, is that I love you, and I forgive you. How Can I do less? Because God loves you, and I am a Christian so I humbly follow his guidance. His word tells me (in the Bible) that He loves us all, no matter what we have done or how bad we think we are. And we are to love one another no matter what the circumstances. You may think your life is a mess but you are special. And God’s able to pick you up and cause you to go on. He can clean up your messes, no matter WHAT they are. God can be your best friend. Nobody in the the whole world will ever love you like God loves you.
Because I know God brings hope and joy into our lives if we let Him, I suggest you set aside a year and just let God love you. Just approach him as a little child would…Crawl up in his lap and let Him love you. Through his son, Jesus, he can fill that empty hole down deep inside — the part of us that is missing if we live our livew without Him. God says, “You shall know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH shall make you free.” (John 8:32) God is the Truth, and He can bring peace and rest, and so many other wonderful things.
Nancy gave me a second chance and today I am the founder of the Atonement Project, a recipient of the 2012 Black Male Engagement (BMe) Leadership Award, a 2013 MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow, a Fellow in the inaugural class of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Community Leadership Network, and teach a course on the Atonement Project at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In 2014, I shared my story on the world-renowned TED stage and in just four months my talk reached more than 1,000,000 views.
I currently serve as the Director of Strategy for #Cut50, a national bipartisan initiative to safely and smartly reduce our incarcerated population by 50 percent over the next 10 years by convening unlikely allies, elevating proven solutions, and communicating a powerful new narrative.