|Photo from the documentary At Night I Fly|
I know you are pondering, who cares about you who took a life? Think of the worst act or wrong you ever did or condoned, consciously or unconsciously. Is that all you are or ever will be? That one moment or few seconds in time. Does that define who you are forever? Over and over again.
I am not a broken record or repeating video or news reel that keeps committing murder. It happened once, in another life time, 35 years ago and I took responsibility then, broke down and rebuilt myself. Don’t keep pouncing or harping on the fact that I took a life. It happened 35 years ago to an unenlightened, ignorant youngster, not one moment ago. Find some real reason to hate me. You do not know me now. You don’t know how deep and broadly I have suffered. Come look me in the eyes, heart and soul, then tell me I’m a murderer. This life—my struggle—is not TV, a movie, or a computer game.
I am a human being not unlike yourself. You could be me and I could be you, with one foot in darkness and one foot in the light. Yes, I killed, I was a murderer, and that one sad fact took only moments, and at that moment I was a murderer. Yet, that does not define who and what I am forever. If it did, every second I would be taking a life, every day, eternally.
The tragic deed broke my heart, spirit, and soul, and sent me tumbling. There is no pleasure or honor in the loss of life. Thick fog is forever dwelling in my heart and soul. I was broken, and felt every emotion and state one feels who has done a grave wrong. I experienced deep painful remorse, guilt, shame and sadness. I had to let go. Otherwise, I would have killed myself, by committing suicide to get from under this LWOP death sentence.
This unjust sentence serves no purpose for my victim or for me. Yet, some force inside me told me that to kill myself would be wrong and grave, as well. I wanted to live and pay my debt to society, if there truly was such a thing. I wanted to live and serve others and also forgive myself and others. To be of service was the only way to honor the life I took, and heal what can be healed. Let me out of prison or don’t let me out: no one can take that realness, connection, and truth away. No one can take away the healing I created with Mother Earth and the universe.
Your heart and soul know that people change, grow and learn how to balance their walk in shadow and in light. As time rolls on we learn to keep both darkness and light peaceful. No one must forgive me or my deed. It was hard to forgive myself for what I did. Yet, I forgive you for however deep or shallow your wrong was. I forgive you for not forgiving me. What heals best in the universe is forgiveness and love. You cannot love one another by hating. Forgiveness is a healing force, that is often stolen from us by politics, economics, hate, and revenge. You don’t condone a killing by forgiving and allowing second chances. Forgiveness is expansive and inclusive.
What have I been doing for most of my 35 years in prison? I am a mentor and teaching artist. I am a native flute player, poet, writer, and actor. Look into my eyes, heart and soul this moment and ask me about me, and not about that broken moment. I cannot bring my victim back or make things whole or right by dying in prison. I cannot twist time like silly putty, no more than you can fix the hurt I caused. I am who and what I am now, this moment. Love me, forgive me or hate me, even hang me. Hang that part of me in you that you despise so much.
You want me to suffer and when I have for over 35 years, that is not enough. Would my death be enough for you? Does anyone truly know what he or she will do at any given moment? Nothing human is foreign to any one. Look with your realness. If I have forgiven myself, who are you to not forgive me?
I am truly sorry for what I did. I am trying not to rant here, but to engage in dialogue. There must be a path, a way to exchange ideas and growth across and beyond walls. We must be able to reconnect and together inspire others, particularly youth. We must inspire them not to be stolen away from one another, family and friends and society. There must be a way back home.
First published on The Good Men Project, in Spoon's column Poet Behind Bars