The day had not gone as planned. It was supposed to be an easy execution, but the prisoner spoke up at the last minute, causing a delay. The person provided information causing the warden to call the case’s judge and ask questions. The judge reviewed the file and commanded the prisoner be set free. Everyone in the room became angry, shouting protests:
“He is a horrible murderer!”
“He cannot be set free.”
“He will do it again.”
“What are you doing? He surely has not changed.”
Everyone, that is, except for one woman. The prisoner was on death row for brutally torturing and murdering her husband, and horribly mutilating her. The woman sat quietly staring at the prisoner through the glass as tears streamed down her face. Amidst the chaos, she seemed completely at peace.
Today was one of those days you don’t expect to happen. Victor was provided a stay of execution today as the liquid was about to be released for his death. I didn’t know how to react at first. All these years of anger, hatred, confusion…yet, when I heard his words, I felt complete peace and comfort. Is that sick? Am I losing my mind? How can I forgive him so easily after all these years of keeping him in a prison of my own making because I would not grant him forgiveness for taking Charles from me and for what he did to me? Why today? Why at that moment? I believe I must talk with him.
The prisoner was relaxing in his room, still in disbelief that one statement could stop his death. After all those years of being in prison, he simply had to utter one sentence to receive freedom. He felt free despite still being locked in a 7 x 7 cell. He felt as though a chain had been lifted. But there was still something that he needed. He realized that though he meant what he said, and was grateful for not being killed, he had to suffer the consequences of his crimes. Horrendous, terrifying crimes committed by a young boy who was lost, confused, and angry. He stared out into the prison population, looking at all of the cells, wondering if others realized how easy it would be to stop their death and receive peace.
In all of my years of feeling horrible for what I did that night, it never dawned on me that I could receive peace and stop all of this by uttering one sentence. I still feel that I am missing something though. I still feel the need to confront my victim, to tell her what I feel inside. To let her know I did not mean to ruin her life and take her husband that night. I was a child. I was lost. I was angry at the world. She suffered at the hands of my rage. I can never take back what I did. I can never make it right. But I can ask her for forgiveness and ask that she find a place to be a friend to me. I know it is asking a lot, but what do I have to lose? I am so thankful for my life at this moment that I have to take the risk.
The warden was unsure whether to grant to visit, but decided to do so only because the series of events over the past two days had been unprecedented. He was used to watching criminals refuse to accept their guilt. In a prison of thousands, he had one guilty man: the man who was supposed to die and did not. Why had that one sentence changed the judge’s mind? Could it be real that uttering a few simple words would save someone from death? He could tell the prisoner meant the words. He could see the change within the man as he visited with him the day after the event. When the prisoner asked him if it would be possible to speak with his victim, the warden thought for sure the guy had lost his mind. He had been insane, that obviously was why the judge put a stay on the execution. It had to be. What he didn’t expect was to receive a call that same day from the victim, asking to meet with the prisoner. Had the entire world gone mad? He had to grant the visit if only to see if forgiveness was something that truly existed. He alerted the guards, called in extra duty, and demanded a full body search for the woman when she arrived.
I am going to do it. Today, I am going over to the prison where two days ago Victor was supposed to die for what he did to my husband and me. I am going to look him the eyes, ask him to touch my face and my arms, and then allow him forgiveness for what he did to me. I am going to show him pictures of all the children whose life I have impacted because I have been able to teach them that their scarred skin from being burned is not a reflection of their inner being. I am going to share with him how the tragedy of losing my husband led me to reflect upon the life we had together before that terrible evening. And how in that reflection, I found the strength to go out and begin volunteering with single mothers and teach them how to protect their children. I want him to understand how his violent and murderous behavior sent me first into a prison of shame, depression, and anger, but then brought me to a place of wholeness, forgiveness, and hospitality. I would not wish these events on anyone; yet, I am no longer angry they happened to me because my life has changed for the better not for the worse. And I want to explain to him what caused my change, as it is evident from his utterance that the same reason has caused his.
I am going to do it. I am going to meet her today. I am going to ask her if I can touch her face and her arms, to feel the pain I inflicted upon her. I must understand the way I changed her life. I want to know from her how I damaged her life, so I can help find a way to repay it. I know it will be painful. I can only imagine she has lived a life of bitterness, anger, and distrust of all around her. I imagine that she has lived her life wondering what she could have done differently. I want to assure her that there is nothing she could have done. I need her to understand that I was in a place of darkness, having been sexually abused for many years by someone I trusted. I am going to do this today and in this meeting I will finally give her what she has asked for all these years through my lawyer: I am going to explain why.
The prisoner walked slowly from his cell to the meeting area. As he sat waiting for his victim to join him in the room, a soft smile began to come over his face. Though he was sad, though he was repentant for what he had done, he was happy to finally have this moment after twenty years of silence. Today was a good day. Today he was going to release himself from prison he had kept himself in by keeping this secret.
The victim drew her breath and held it for a few moments. “Here I go,” she said aloud. She walked with her head high, smiling wide as she approached the prison. Today was a good day. After twenty years, today was the day she would release herself from the prison she had been in by remaining silent.
Several guards stood strategically placed around the perimeter of the room. It was quite obvious they were not expecting this meeting to go well. The victim walked through the door and made eye contact with the prisoner. The guards stood at attention, not expecting the exchange they were about to witness.
The prisoner rose as the victim approached him. He reached out his arms and was surprised when she embraced him fully and without reservation. They remained in this embrace for fifteen minutes, tears streaming from every eye within the room. The mother and son reuniting after twenty years.
The son who acted out in anger toward the man who had been physically abusing his mother and sexually abusing him for five years before that night. The son who thought he was helping his mother by making her unattractive to any man who would ever do that to her again. The son who had cried at the execution, “Father forgive me for I knew not what I was doing. I am a guilty man but with your forgiveness, I can be made whole and see my family again one day.”
The mother who had always felt shame for not being able to protect her son from the man she married. The mother who always felt at fault for not stopping the violence within the household. The mother who wondered why her son had nearly killed her but didn’t finish the job. The mother who had prayed for years that her son would find it within himself to ask for forgiveness, even going so far as requesting the judge drop her son’s penalty from death to life in prison if he ever found it within himself to ask forgiveness. Together they stood as one, demonstrating to all in the room the power of forgiveness and truth.
©2012 Michelle Vera
To increase my writing ability and expand my thinking, I sometimes open up 3 AM Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction by Brian Kiteley. This challenge, Point of View Exercise 5: Journalism, is to write a 700 word story (I totally blew past this word count!) in which part of the story is told through journal entries that reveal more about the author. I have to keep it from being self-absorbed and ensure the reader does not get confused, understands the events are occurring and then the writer is explaining what happened from another vantage point. That is, the events happen and the reader understands them, but then the journal entries explain another point of view that the reader didn’t see when reading the story. How did the author feel about the events? What did she perceive that others didn’t during the events?
I chose to write the story using diary entries from the two main characters, instead of just one author. I know that is not within the guidelines, but it still helped me learn another way of writing. I enjoyed this exercise so much that this story is actually the sixth one I wrote! I had five others that I just didn’t love…where when I wrote this one, I found myself wiping tears at times. I could feel what the characters were feeling and it overwhelmed me. So I knew this was the one I would post despite it being more graphic than what I normally share.