adult years

How A Sex Offender Taught Me forgiveness

A day I will never forget

I had just entered prison for the first time.
I was nervous, I didn’t know what to expect.

I’d been to a One Last Talk event before, but this one was different.
It was being held in a prison and the speakers were inmates who volunteered to give there one last message to the world if they were to die tomorrow.
Hence the name of the event, “One Last Talk.”

As I walked into the visitor center of the prison, I was greeted by several men wearing green jumpsuits.
Some looked rough and hard while some looked completely non-threatening.
I was a bit nervous, I was in a room with people who have committed terrible crimes like murder.
I didn’t know how to behave.

I remember thinking, “Should I look them in the eye, should I keep to myself, what do I do?”
I was anxious.
Finally, I decided to just sit down.

A few minutes later one of the inmates sat next to me.
I felt uncomfortable initially, but then we started talking.
We even started laughing.
The more we talked and laughed, the more I felt at ease.
Talking to him started to feel like I was talking to a friend.

During our conversation I wondered, “What crime did this sweet guy do?”
He seemed harmless, like a big teddy bear, incapable of causing trouble or hurting anyone.

He informed me that he was one of the speakers and that he was really nervous about it.
Public speaking has always been my biggest fear, so I told him I thought he was brave for what he was about to do.
When we finished chatting, he got up and joined the other speakers.

When it was his turn, he walked up with a blushed face and shaky hand as he took the mic to share his One Last Talk.
His nerves had him speaking a mile a minute. It was hard to understand him.
He was speaking so fast that the coordinator of the event had to stop him, tell him to take a deep breath and start over.
My heart broke for him, I could feel how nervous he was.

As he stood in front of us trying to muster up the courage to start again, I sat on the edge of my seat and in my head, I was cheering my new friend on saying, “You can do it.”
He took a deep breath and began his talk again.

He began speaking about “labels” and how everyone in prison has a “label.”
Then he took a pause and I could tell that what he was about to say next made him extremely uncomfortable.
After a few seconds of silence, he proceeded to say,  “Everyone has a label and I’m labeled as a sex offender.”

My heart sunk.
My instant thought was, “Rot in hell.”
I felt angry. Disturbed.
I didn’t want to sit and listen to his talk anymore because I didn’t think he deserved to be listened too.
He was everything I stand against.

Not wanting to cause a scene by walking out, I reluctantly stayed in my seat, but I was prepared to mentally and emotionally check out.
Daydream about dresses and recipes. Anything to distract me from listening to him.

Then he started describing his childhood and it sounded eerily similar to mine.
Neglect, physical and sexual abuse.
The only difference was, his was a lot worse than mine.
All of a sudden my “Rot in hell attitude” faded.
His “label” faded.
He had my attention and I listened.

I couldn’t believe the things he experienced as a child.
He was sharing horrific things that no child, no human should ever have to endure.

At the end of his talk, I went up and spoke to him.
I don’t remember exactly what I said to him, but I do remember having this moment of silence where we just stared into each other’s eyes.
His eyes filled up with tears as did mine.

As I stared into his teary eyes, I saw a certain sadness in him, a sadness I recognized all too well.
I also saw hurt.
Embarrassment.
Shame.
Shock of just sharing what happened to him in his childhood to a bunch of strangers.
Everything that I carry on my own and try to hide was now staring me in the face through his eyes.
But above all, I saw remorse for what he had done.
True genuine remorse.

And in that moment I felt an overwhelming sense of compassion for him.
Because I no longer saw a sex offender but instead, I saw a little kid.
A little kid who didn’t deserve to get raped repeatedly and beaten at 5, but did.
A little kid who deserved a loving and safe home, but got the opposite.
A little kid whose hopes and dreams never stood a chance due to abusive parents.

I also saw a man who has to live the rest of his life knowing that he inflicted the same pain that was inflicted onto him.

My feeling of compassion doesn’t mean that what he did is okay.
I actually don’t specifically know what his crime was.
He never shared that part but whatever he did and whoever he hurt, I could tell he was sorry.

This is something I never thought I’d see.
I always thought that people who inflict sexual abuse were heartless narcissistic assholes, who always deny and lie about what they did.
This guy was different. He was owning what he did.

As he stood in line with the other speakers waiting to head back into prison, I wondered how differently his life would have turned out had he not been sexually abused.

Would he have been an artist?
A doctor?
I don’t know. It’s sad to think what he could have been had he been given a chance.

Never ever did I think that I could feel compassion for someone who has done what he has done.
But in that moment, I was able to separate what he did from what was done to him.

This is something I never thought I could do.
My heart still and foremost goes out to whomever he hurt, but it goes out to him as well.
It was an emotionally confusing day, but also a day I will never forget.

Later That Night

The events of the day hit me hard and that night I couldn’t sleep.
I kept reflecting on everything I heard and witnessed that day in prison.
Sexual abuse is way more common than I ever thought.

Every single speaker endured some sort of sexual and physical abuse.
It’s was painfully sad to hear.
I wished I could have gone back in time to save them all from the abuse and following it up with making bad choices.
Our world can be so fucked up.

But, one of the most beautiful things I witnessed that day was how all the inmates were brought closer together through sharing their stories.
There were tears, hugs, laughs and above all, a newfound support and understanding for each other.

Everyone saw each other in a new light.
The prisoners saw each other differently.
The Warden and guards saw the prisoners differently.
New friendships were made, walls were torn down and everyone could relate to each other on a deeper level.
It was amazing to witness.
Sharing is so powerful.

***Since burying my truth for over 20 years, there’s nothing that’s been more impactful than sharing it and addressing it, no matter how scary and hard it’s been.
You can do it, I believe in you and I’m here to support you.

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