Innocence Raises Challenge of Forgiveness
I don’t mind admitting that I spent a number of years plotting the early demise of several people. Quite a few people actually. The sheriff, the DA, the usual suspects. My lawyer told me something. I had heard it before, and I don’t know who the first guy to say it was. But he said, “To have revenge and hate in your heart is like drinking poison and hoping the other guy dies.” That may be kind of flowery, symbolic, hyperbole, but it’s perfectly accurate. When you do get there—and it’s a conscious choice but then it takes a little bit of time—you feel lighter, you drop 40 pounds. It’s an improvement in every aspect of your life.
—Texas exoneree Michael Morton at the Texas State Capitol on the one-year anniversary of his October 4, 2011 release from prison. Morton had been given a life sentence for the 1986 murder of his wife Christine.
The Innocence Project is legal-aid organization that assists prisoners who could be proven innocent through post-conviction DNA testing. Since 1992, the Innocence Project has spawned more than 60 similar groups that now make up the Innocence Network. To date, more than 300 people have been exonerated, including 18 who were sentenced to death. One third had been aged 14 – 22 when convicted, and the interruption of educational and professional pursuits has life-long consequences. Exonerees leave prison with no financial support from the state. Many suffer from depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders. Some have strong, supportive families, while others have lost ties with loved ones. While an exoneration is celebrated and can be a joyous event, exonerees face significant challenges as they rebuild their lives. Each person’s experience is unique, but exonerees share the need to cope with emotional scars inflicted by the injustice they have endured.
This year the Fetzer Institute is partnering with the Innocence Project for their network’s annual conference, to offer and learn from intensive seminars where exonerees and others can explore the role of fellowship, acceptance, and forgiveness in overcoming the trauma of a wrongful conviction. Sessions will focus on forgiveness, mindfulness, storytelling, and embodied practices such as yoga. North Carolina Public Radio will feature the conference and stories of the exonerees locally and nationally on The Story with Dick Gordon throughout 2013.
This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Information and Communications Professions.