MARY JOHNSON, 58, talks with OSHEA ISRAEL, 34
In 1993, Oshea Israel, 16, got into an argument with Laramiun Byrd, 20, at a party, and he shot and killed him. Laramiun was Mary Johnson’s only son.
Oshea Israel and Mary Johnson on the day Oshea was release from prison in March, 2010.
Following the murder of her son, Ms. Johnson said she originally wanted justice and to see Israel locked up for what he had done. She said:
“My son was gone. I was angry and hated this boy, hated his mother.
“(The murder) was like a tsunami. Shock. Disbelief. Hatred. Anger. Hatred. Blame. Hatred. I wanted him to be caged up like the animal he was.”
But then, some years later, the 58-year-old teacher and devout Christian, asked if she could meet Israel at Minnesota's Stillwater state prison. She said she felt compelled to see if there was a way in which she could forgive her son's killer.
“Hurt is hurt, it doesn't matter what side you are on,” she explained.
So Mary reached out to her son's killer who at first refused to meet her, but then nine months later changed his mind.
Israel said he was shocked that she wanted to meet him. He explains:
“I believe the first thing she said to me was, ‘Look, you don't know me. I don't know you. Let's just start with right now.’ And I was befuddled myself.”
The pair met regularly after that and have since become close friends, a situation that Mary puts down to her strong religious beliefs.
She explains: “Unforgiveness is like cancer. It will eat you from the inside out. It's not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he's done. Yes, he murdered my son— but the forgiveness is for me.”
Mary Johnson has forgiven Israel. She even wears a necklace with a two-sided locket—on one side are photos of herself and her son; the other side has a picture of Israel.
Mary also founded From Death to Life, an organization that supports mothers who have lost children to homicide, and encourages forgiveness between families of murderers and victims. She considers families of murderers victims of another kind.
Israel admits he still struggles with the extraordinary situation he finds himself in.
StoryCorps, an independent nonprofit that provides people with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives, released a new book "Ties That Bind” to celebrate its 10th anniversary. The book revisits some of StoryCorps’ favorite narratives among them this incredible story of forgiveness and love. Here’s an excerpt of a conversation Ms. Johnson had with Oshea Israel:
Recorded in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on April 18, 2011.
Photo by Brian Mogren
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