Do we really believe in giving people a second chance? Is forgiveness the responsibility of society as a whole, or are we individually responsible for forgiving others? Writer, mentor and therapist, Annette Lynn Greenwood challenges us to look at the implications of allowing people the opportunity to ‘right their wrongs’…
Mounting clinical evidence now supports what many ancient cultures have long believed, that holding on to negative emotions such as anger, profoundly affects our health. By mentally living in the past, we are not free to experience the present, the mind manifests negative thought patterns that drag us down psychologically, and by continually going over such negative events we stay trapped. We suffer from anxiety, depression, and other stress related disorders, which physically manifests in the body for all to see like ulcers, high blood pressure and often other ailments that perhaps doctors have no explanation for.
Spiritually we are in crisis; we are out of touch with our inner selves, feeling lost and disconnected. Inner peace is replaced by internal chaos.
Experience has taught me there is a myth about forgiveness, it is greatly misunderstood. Forgiveness is seen as a sign of weakness, to forgive must mean we are yielding, but nothing could be further from the truth. Imagine how it feels to hold onto a heavy weight constantly, your arms tire, legs ache, when we mentally hold on to past issues and emotions we carry the same burdens. Surely second chances and forgiveness go hand in hand, one depends on the other, which is not to say we forget, but if we all, as human beings, reflected on our own lives from time to time, perhaps we would not be so quick to judge those who are willing to give others a second chance. What follows are two case studies, based on real events and people, only their names have been changed. I hope they will help you to judge how far we as a society have yet to go when it comes to allowing each other a chance to grow from our mistakes and help nurture a physically, and morally healthier society…
Off The Rails
As a young man, Wayne’s middle class family had high hopes for him. Wayne however, decided school was not for him, he had designs on living the high life.
At home Wayne wanted for nothing, bar the attentions and affections of a father who chose to send Wayne away to his room to play with his expensive toys rather than spend time with his son. Wayne felt increasingly isolated and in an attempt to be noticed began playing truant from school, eventually being threatened with expulsion.
His parents, grounded him, but he would sneak out in the night to join his much older, new friends, smoking marijuana. His behaviour at home grew more irrational. He was cheeky to his mother, but in response his father, instead of talking to Wayne, just sent him to his room with further threats. Wayne heard his parents frequently arguing into the night; his mother defending him, but his father took a different view. This began to sow the seeds of self-doubt for Wayne, he felt worthless, and became increasingly introverted.
By seventeen Wayne’s lack of self-worth made him easy fodder for a more notorious gang. Wayne now relied solely on the gang for the support he lacked from his father. His mother became ill with worry; she almost hoped he would get arrested. She soon got her wish. As she answered to the door the policemen, who explained Wayne was in custody for assault, she almost breathed a sigh of relief. Wayne might now turn his life around.
He didn’t. Wayne was coming home with designer gear from expensive stores. She confronted him to be met with a tirade of abuse. She feared the worst – drugs. Wayne got repeatedly arrested for driving offences and assault charges. It was only a matter of time before he was sent to prison. The family broke down and Wayne’s parents divorced.
Wayne wanted to make a fresh start, but he was in too deep, he was a drugs runner, putting himself in a very dangerous and vulnerable position. Wayne loved his mother and decided to leave home before she got dragged into his problems. He saw no way out, even considering driving the car into a tree to end his life (that would sort everything out), but he couldn’t get the image of his mother out of his mind.
In desperation Wayne confided in the only relative who had not turned their back on him telling her what a mess his life was in and how he had thought about ending it. He had disgraced his family, deeply hurt his mother and believed there was no way he could repair that; he would accept responsibility for all the pain he had caused. He felt the best thing to do was to go abroad with the money he had hoarded.
Not having slept for days and Wayne dozed off which gave his relative a chance to call his mother. She was there within minutes. Looking at her sleeping son she wanted to cradle him in her arms, tell him it was going to be alright, regardless of what he had done. Love flooded her heart. She knew what he had done was very wrong and didn’t condone it. She could call the police get him arrested; after all he was supplying drugs to innocent people, even children. Then she remembered how she had forgiven him when he had misbehaved as a little boy, she remembered doing things she shouldn’t have done, that she wasn’t perfect. She remembered her husband repeatedly sending Wayne off to his room to play alone – Wayne never got the love he craved. Some of the responsibility was theirs, as parents. Wayne’s future lay in her hands.
As Wayne’s eyes began to open he winced when he saw his mother’s anguished face – had he caused this? He got up to run but was stopped in his tracks by her words, “Wayne I love you, I forgive you, let me help you.” Wayne had been given a second chance she had found it in her heart to forgive him.
Years later Wayne’s life is so different. Now married, he is a proud father, has his own successful business, and regularly sees his mother and family again. Sadly he and his Father never managed to rebuild their relationship. Wayne’s father would not give him a second chance, would not let go, he hung onto to the event in his mind and continually revisited it. He refused to forgive his son and kept alive all the resentment he felt toward him. He failed to realise that by forgiving Wayne it would free him also.
My new case was Kelly, a 21 year old hooker. She had been convicted of prostitution and theft. In the interview room I was greeted by a petite woman with elfin-like features, strikingly pretty and smiling warmly. An image of what a prostitute would look like had flashed through my head, and this wasn’t it! I introduced myself to Kelly explaining I was to be her coach that I would help her, in any way I could, to come to terms with life in prison and the charges that had brought her here. Kelly told me that she was to serve two years for prostitution and theft; she did not deny the offences. I asked what had led her to this.
With three young children, Kelly had been deserted by her partner who was secretly making his money by handling stolen goods. As soon as he had enough money, he left.
Kelly described that time, “I had to earn money. Our flat belonged to a friend of Dave’s and as soon as Dave did a bunk they threw us out. The kids are only small; twins aged four and a one year old. I had nowhere to go; we camped out in an old caravan belonging to some travellers on some waste land, with no money for food or nappies. I went to my parents for help but they said I had made my bed… They hated Dave; they’d never seen their grandkids.
I stole food for my kids, nappies for the baby. I’d never done anything like this before. I didn’t have a fixed address so I couldn’t get any benefits. I was afraid for my kids; I didn’t want them taken from me. In the beginning I hated myself but I became numb to it all.”
Sat there, I wondered where we, as a society, had gone wrong. Somewhere along the line we had let Kelly down. She was already feeling isolated from her parents and now she had to live with the stigma of what she had done. Kelly continued to explain, “Things got tougher as the weather turned colder, I needed to heat the place and I had lost over two stone in weight. At night, when the kids were asleep, I went through the dustbins on the local estate. I learned how live on scraps and leftovers.
One night a guy offered to give me twenty pounds if I had sex with him. I thought about what that would buy for my babies; food, heating for the caravan, perhaps some clothes from the charity shop for me. It was over in minutes, I closed my eyes as he grunted away on top of me. Afterwards I felt cheap and dirty, but in the back of my mind were my kid’s hungry faces. I quickly realised I could make a living like this, nobody was going to help me, so I had to help myself, and I was responsible for three innocent lives. I prayed each night that one day my parents would forgive me that we could start again as a family. I honestly believed that someday they would understand why I was doing this. In the meantime though I felt I had no choice. Before too long I was arrested, someone had seen me. I was charged with soliciting and theft; they sentenced me to four years in prison reduced to two.
My parents are looking after my kids. If there is anything good to come out of this, that’s got to be it. When my parents came to see me my mother looked horrified, she thought I had anorexia I had lost that much weight. My kids don’t know where I am; they think I am working away for awhile. I don’t want them put through any more.”
I put it to Kelly that in prison she would be able to reflect on her life and I could help her look to the future, it might not happen over night but we could change things gradually. Over the many months we worked together, Kelly started to grow and develop as a person, her levels of self-esteem increased. The challenge we faced was how society would view her once she left prison, was she a bad mother? She fed and clothed her children by the only means she knew how. I had to prepare her for the barriers she would come up against.
Her parents were visiting regularly, slowly coming around. Kelly and her children were to go back and live with them. Kelly would begin her education, gain some qualifications and try to make a fresh start in life. I was left wondering whether we had any right to point the finger at another human being who had seen no other way out, who had, in her own mind, done the best for her children. Should we be more tolerant more understanding in cases like this, should we give the Kelly’s of this world a second chance?