Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson hated 16-year-old Oshea Israel when she met him.

“Who did he think he was that he could take my child’s life?” she said.

Oshea killed Mary’s only son, Laramiun Byrd, 20, during a dispute at a party in Minneapolis, Minnesota on February 12, 1993.

Searching for answers on how to heal, Mary founded From Death to Life in 2005, an organization dedicated to ending violence through healing and reconciliation between families of victims and perpetrators. Through that organization, Mary enters into dialogue with parents whose children have been killed, as well as families of those who have taken a life. Mary soon realized that her failure to forgive was “like a cancer that eats you from the inside,” and that if she wished to heal, she needed to meet her son’s murderer.

Twelve years after Laramiun’s death, Mary reached out to O’Shea, who agreed to meet her. But when the day of the visit came, Mary was suddenly overcome with emotion. For Mary, “the anger and bitterness was over. I just knew it. I had reached the point of total forgiveness.”

Oshea was released on March 7, 2009, after serving sixteen years of his sentence. Mary’s organization hosted a homecoming celebration for Oshea and his family. Mary also introduced Oshea to her landlord, who invited Oshea to move in next door to her. Now, Mary considers him to be her “spiritual son,” and he sees Mary as his second mother.

Mary and Oshea now regularly travel together around the nation speaking at various functions to a wide range of audiences about anti-violence and forgiveness.

To Mary, justice is giving young offenders a chance to be rehabilitated.

“What does it achieve to lock them all up for their entire lives?” she said. “If they don’t have a chance to reform and heal and to show others how to learn from their mistakes, there’s no hope for anybody.”

To learn more about Mary’s story, read her story of forgiveness here, listen to her storycorps interview here, and visit the homepage of her organization here.