by Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel
As we each prepared to enter the visitation room of Minnesota’s Stillwater state prison for men in 2005, one from the visitor’s side, one from the inmate’s side, we were both nervous, and found ourselves full of caution. For each of us, the biggest question was: Is forgiveness possible between the mother of a murdered youth and the teenager who took his life?
That meeting was the beginning of a unique partnership. We have cried together, healed together, talked and listened together, and found that simple conversations can change lives. Together, we speak to churches, schools, prisons and conferences. Our message is that violence can be prevented and that it is possible to live with forgiveness, no matter what has happened to you.
We usually avoid the specific details of that night in February 1993, when Laramiun Byrd lost his life. It’s too painful for any mother to relive. A 16-year-old killed a 20-year-old at a party, and Mary lost her only child. To be a grieving parent is the worst human pain, and we are both aware that healing and moving forward will never completely erase that hurt.
Unfortunately, disagreements escalate and lives are sometimes lost. Stories like ours are familiar to young people in our Minneapolis neighborhood and in communities like it all over this country. Young people sometimes find themselves caught up in situations they can’t control or understand. As adults, we can make our lives as we want them to be, but for many teenagers, the negative influences around them are beyond their ability to navigate or escape.