Sages of the New Covenant
“Restorative” programs have been shown to be more meaningful and effective solutions in helping victims' families to heal. Retributive justice, on the other hand, only punishes the offender by “throwing him away” without requiring him to take responsibility. Hence, we need to initiate the following:
"Reconciliation means accepting you can't undo the murder; but you can decide how you want to live afterwards”
- Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, Inc
Execution is another homicide, creating more grief in another family. This leaves scars on the lives of many people, possibly for longer than just one generation. After an execution, many victims are left with the same gnawing pain and anger they hoped the execution would ease.
Forgiveness is a value-communication demonstrated and taught by Jesus Christ. This teaching makes Jesus Christ to stand out from the rest of the spiritual leaders. The power of forgiveness is self-healing, which I have experienced with the sexual predator of my daughter. It is in pardoning we are pardoned. It is difficult to take the first step; once you set aside your anger and revenge and enter into dialogue with the other, you would explore the new person in the other and in the process, experience a new-discovered – YOU.
If forgiveness has to come in practice, first there should not be capital punishment. In the US, research shows that homicide actually increases on either side of an execution. Social scientists refer to this as the "brutalization effect"
Alternative “restorative” programs have been shown to be more meaningful and effective solutions in helping victims' families to heal. The programs recognize that to heal the effects of crime, the needs of the individual victims and communities must be met. They give offenders the opportunity to become meaningfully accountable to their victims and hold them responsible to repair the harm they have caused. Retributive justice, on the other hand, only punishes the offender by “throwing him away” without requiring him to take responsibility.
Restorative justice includes programs such as victim-offender mediation, reparative probation, restitution programs and community service programs. Organizations like Murder Families Victims for Reconciliation and the Journey of Hope, led by murder victim family members and address alternatives to the death penalty.
Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and The Journey of Hope are victims' advocacy groups that oppose the death penalty. People who have lost loved ones to murder founded these organizations. They provide support to family members of murder victims. Many of their members tour the country, explaining their opposition to the death penalty.
Whether there is ban / moratorium on death penalty or not, individuals need to be encouraged to forgive others to create a peaceful co-existence. Forgiveness is a contagious behavior, which many have not tried yet. Some have learnt; others are struggling to learn. It becomes easy to forgive, for those who believe in forgiveness of God. The following is one such example of forgiveness:
In 2008 14-year-old David, was murdered in the park opposite his home in South London. The perpetrator was 16-year-old Elijah Dayoni who later received a minimum sentence of 12 years. In 2010 Grace, mother of the deceased met Elijah at a restorative justice conference at Ashfield Young Offenders Institute.
When Grace arrived in the room, Elijah was crying bitterly with his head held low. She’d been told he’d been crying all morning and the officer had told him the meeting could still be cancelled but he’d insisted on going ahead.
The priest from the prison and a police officer were with them. The first thing she asked Elijah was “Did you know David?” He said “No”. She then asked, “So why?” Elijah said, “I stabbed him because he was from a rival school and I had a knife.” That was when she broke down; it was the first time she’d cried in front of other people. When she recovered herself she told him, “I’m not crying for David, I’m crying for you. What have you done with your life?” Then he said, “Please Grace, don’t hate me. I didn’t mean to kill your boy.”
She told him about David and about David’s three brothers. She said, “You’ve taken our best friend from us.” And then she leaned over and said, “but I want you to know that I forgive you,” and she hugged him.
She left that day feeling a huge sense of relief both for her but also because one day this young man will be released from prison and she don’t want his bitterness to destroy his life as well as the lives of others.
She also asked Elijah to write a letter to David’s three brothers which he later did. This gave them back their strength and confidence. Then last year her husband, who had been so angry, told me that through prayer he had found it in his heart to forgive Elijah: “I too could now sit in the same room with him,” he said.
After 27 years behind bars, Paula Cooper walked out of Indiana's Rockville Correctional Facility a free woman. Cooper had an unlikely ally supporting her release: Bill Pelke, the grandson of the woman she killed.
The events that ensnared both families started when Cooper was 15 and devised a plan to steal money with her friends. After smoking marijuana and drinking wine, they went to the home of Bible teacher Ruth Pelke, 78, armed with a knife. Cooper struck Pelke with a vase, cut her arms and legs, then stabbed her in the chest and stomach 33 times, according to Indiana court records. Their loot? Just $10.
An Indiana judge sentenced Cooper to death on July 11, 1986, when she was 16, and became the youngest person on death row in the United States. More than 2 million people signed a petition asking the Indiana Supreme Court to overturn Cooper's death sentence.
"I became convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that my grandmother would have had love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family," Pelke told CNN. "I felt she wanted someone in my family to have that same sort of love and compassion. I didn't have any but was so convinced that's what she would have wanted, I begged God to give me love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family and do that on behalf of my grandmother."
Pelke said he's never asked Cooper to explain her actions -- "There's not a good answer for that" -- but said she has shown remorse for the killing.
"She would take it back in a heartbeat if she could, but she knows she has to live with it for the rest of her life," he said. "She knows she took something valuable out of society. She wants to try to give back. She wants to help work with other young people to avoid the pitfalls that she fell into. She wants to try to give back to society."
Watch the Interview of Bill Pelke to CNN
In February 1993, Mrs Mary Johnson's son, Laramiun Byrd, 20, was shot in the head by 16-year-old Israel after an argument at a party in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Israel, who was involved with drugs and gangs, was tried as an adult and sentenced to 25 and a half years. He served 17 before being released.
Mrs Johnson said she originally wanted justice and to see Israel locked up for what he had done. She said: 'My son was gone. I was angry and hated this boy, hated his mother. [The murder] was like a tsunami. Shock. Disbelief. Hatred. Anger. Hatred. Blame. Hatred. I wanted him to be caged up like the animal he was.'
She decided to found a support group and counseled mothers whose children had been killed and encouraged them to reach out to the families of their murderers, who were victims of another kind. 'Hurt is hurt, it doesn't matter what side you are on,' she said.
Then just a few years ago, the 59-year-old teacher and devout Christian, asked if she could meet Israel at Minnesota's Stillwater state prison. She said she felt compelled to see if there was a way in which she could forgive her son's killer.
At first he refused but then nine months later, changed his mind. Israel said he was shocked by the fact she wanted to meet him. He said: 'I believe the first thing she said to me was, ''Look, you don't know me. I don't know you. Let's just start with right now.'' 'And I was befuddled myself.'
The pair met regularly after that. When Israel was released from prison around 18 months ago, Mrs Johnson introduced him to her landlord - who with her blessing invited Israel to move into the building. Mrs Johnson and Israel are now close friends, a situation that she puts down to her strong religious beliefs but says she also has a selfish motive.
She said: 'Unforgiveness is like cancer. It will eat you from the inside out. 'It's not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he's done. Yes, he murdered my son - but the forgiveness is for me.'
Mary Johnson even wears a necklace with a two-sided locket - on one side are photos of herself and her son; the other has a picture of Israel.
Israel admits he still struggles with the extraordinary situation he finds himself in.
He said: 'I haven't totally forgiven myself yet, I'm learning to forgive myself. And I'm still growing toward trying to forgive myself.' Israel now hopes to prove himself to the mother of the man he killed.
He works at a recycling plant during the day and goes to college at night. He says he's determined to payback Mrs Johnson's clemency by contributing to society. He visits prisons and churches to talk about forgiveness and reconciliation. Mrs Johnson often joins him and they tell their story together.
He added: 'A conversation can take you a long way.'
Deeply ingrained in Gladys Staines are the teachings of the Bible. Even after the brutal murder of her missionary husband, Graham Staines , and their two sons, in Orissa, India, she forgave all to start life afresh. In addition, she taught her daughter to follow her suit and the following are her words :
"It wasn't something I had thought about. But when I heard that the family was dead, I told Esther, my daughter: "We'll forgive those who killed them, won't we?" And she said: "Yes, Mummy, we will."
Two weeks later someone approached me at her school and said: "I can't understand how you can forgive." My daughter later told me: "Mummy, I can't understand how they can't understand why we have forgiven." That was when I understood how deeply the teachings of Christ had penetrated within my daughter.
Rajiv Gandhi & His Family:
During Rajiv Gandhi fateful visit to Sri Lanka, during his prime ministership, while he was about to board his air-craft, after signing the Indo-Lanka accord, he was assulted by a Vijaymuni Vijitha Rohana De Silva, Sinhalese navy personnel. On his return to India, he appealed to the Sri Lankan government to pardon him and not to court-marshal the offender.
Nalini Sriharan, co-conspirator in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi had been sentenced to death; but her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after Sonia Gandhi pleaded for clemency so that the convict's (who conspired to kill her husband) daughter would not be orphaned.
On 19th March, 2008, Priyanka Vadara, daughter of former prime minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, met Nalini; and it was her journey of coming to peace with the violence and loss that she had experienced. After meeting Nalini, Priyanka told : “When I reached there, I realised I am no one to forgive because she has suffered just as I have and I think when people do things like this, they do it out of their own suffering and that is what I understood when I went.”
Souren Bannerji had always thought of himself as a peaceful man. But when his wife, son, and daughter were raped and murdered by a hate-filled crowd of Muslims in Calcutta in 1946, he was led to an unthinkable response. Souren found himself joining violent Hindu mobs, seeking revenge. Before he had time to realize what he was doing, he was involved in the massacre of a Muslim family. Having killed a child, Souren know he‘d be haunted forever… [when he learned of Gandhi‘s fasting unto death for this violence, he went to him and pleaded for forgiveness]: “I have committed a heinous crime. I murdered a Muslim family after my family was killed. My life has become a living hell. I can‘t accept the additional burden of your death on my conscience, Bapu. Please give up your fast”. Gandhi replied: “If you want to atone for your sin, I have a suggestion. First, for yourself, go and find an orphan Muslim baby and nurture the baby as your own. You must allow the baby to grow up in its own faith”.
Souren did not forget the words Gandhi had spoken to him. In his search for an orphaned Muslim child, he found a young Muslim mother (Maryam) with an infant baby who had miraculously escaped death. Her husband and family had been killed, she had been repeatedly raped, and now she was an outcast. One moment of madness had changed her life forever, just as it had changed Souren‘s life. As they told each other of their suffering, Souren and Maryam found they had much in common. Slowly a relationship developed. One day Souren shared with Maryam the last words he had heard from Gandhi: “We are one human race. Don‘t let religion divide us.” Souren and Maryam were married.
In the spirit of Gandhi, they decided they would study both of their religions and absorb the good each had to offer. I met Souren in Bombay several years later. He and Maryam had two children: Maryam's son, whom Souren had adopted, and a daughter. They confided, “We understand what Gandhi meant when he said, Change can come only one life at a time.”
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Sages of the New Covenant