Monday, December 8, 2014

A story of forgiveness that continues

I looked at him he looked vaguely familiar.  His glasses were taped up and he had some sort of black stocking cap on, he smiled at me and waved. I couldn't place him. As we continued to listen to the prison creed cover band I was wracking my brain trying to figure out who he was. As the chapel service came to a close he approached me. "Are you Ben?" not even trying to pretend I knew who he was I said yes, how do I know you? I am Brandon I was in one of your Plus classes. I wouldn't and didn't recognize him. But I remembered him. I have told his story so many times. It had been over 8 years since I had seen him last. I asked how he was doing? And the answer was a lot has changed in my life. He then went to get some coffee and I was left wondering what had happened in his life over the last many years of his life.
His story I have told many times, and even written about it, but as a refresher he was in the very first class I ever taught. I was teaching the Purpose Driven Life. My expectations were that I would have a guard with a big gun standing next to me as I taught. Reality was that the chaplain who escorted me in left to sit in his office and I was along with over 60 men in the same chapel I was in yesterday afternoon. As I went through the first few chapters of the book, I asked the question "When have you seen God in other people or situations?" Brandon raised his hand, and asked if he could share something?  he stood up next to me and took the mic and shared his story. These were the words I remember like they were yesterday. "I am in here for my part of a murder. I did what I was accused of doing. While I was in county jail waiting for trial, one day I was waiting for some friends to visit and a guard came to my cell. He told me I had a visitor so I went to the visiting room and it was the kind where there are tables separated by glass. I looked down the line and there was no one I recognized. The only open table was this little old lady and I looked at the guard and he shrugged and said she is here to see you. It was better than going back to my cell so I sat down and grabbed the phone and she asked me are you Brandon? I responded yes. She said I'm Timmy's grandmother (the boy you murdered) and I want to tell you I forgive you." Brandon ended his story with saying and that's when I saw God at work.

This story drew me into wanting to be a part of these men's lives. This story gave me hope for personal freedom from guilt, bitterness, and many other emotions that people do to deal with pain. I knew after hearing this story that there was so much I could learn from these men and their situations.

At the time Brandon an Asatru. It is a form of Germanic neopaganism faith. He was friendly but connected and steadfast in his faith.

After he got his coffee yesterday afternoon he came back over and wanted to talk. He gave me a hug, and said "man its been a long time." I agreed and proceeded to tell him that I had told his story so many times. He smiled and through his facial tattoos and his taped up glasses he said my life has changed and that story isn't over. I can't remember all he said as I was caught up in emotion and memories. But two parts stick out. The first being he has become a Christian. He shared between the program I taught and other brothers in the prison, he explored Christianity and God drew him in.
The second thing caught me offguard. Timmy's cousin has since been incarcerated at ISP. I asked him how that went? He at first was very worried and scared because those kind of situations do not usually end well. The vengeance factor of killing a family member usually ends in some kind of payback.
One day this cousin approached Brandon and said hey we are cool. I forgive you. Since then the two have become friends.
As Brandon was leaving he shared one last thing, even though his family forgave me, I still struggled with forgiving myself. But I have started to do that. I feel like I can forgive myself. It may be another 8 years until I see Brandon again, but it was an honor and blessing to hear and see God at work in his life.