“Give me one reason why I should forgive myself.”

Posted: January 15, 2013 in jail
Tags: , ,

I thought of a million reasons, but the look on his face told me to keep quiet.

He gave me a slight smile born of apathy and grief. I was looking at a lost and destroyed soul. He looked away, rubbed his eyes and stared at his lap.

The room had become silent as if there was an absence of time and space. I looked up and they all either had their heads down or were looking away.

What had I stepped into and how do I get out of it?

I cleared my throat and gently put my hand on his arm. He pulled it back slightly but not completely.

“Gary, what are you talking about?”

He shook his head, coughed and leaned back in his chair and looked at me. His eyes were crystal blue and shiny from his tears. He was holding them back and struggling.

I didn’t know whether to push forward or leave it alone.

“Susan, what you have been saying and teaching us in these classes is good. Very good, but on this point, I cannot do it. Not now and not ever. I don’t deserve to be forgiven for what I did. If I don’t deserve it then how can I do it myself? Nah, not gonna happen. Can we change the subject now?”

I was there to help these men with their future. In order to have a brighter future, one must atone for the past and once done, put it behind them and figure out today.  Teaching and talking was crucial to learning but must also be done on one’s own determinism.

There was such destitution in his eyes; I decided to leave it alone. If he wanted to talk about it, I would listen. Until then, I decided to carry on with the class.

He sat quietly for the next half hour. He didn’t look at anyone and continued to stare at the table. The rest of the men read and chatted about what they were learning, what they thought about it and how it applied to them.

The laughter came back into the room for everyone but Gary. He was as still and silent as a stone. I could not keep my attention off of him.

Towards the end of the class as I was wrapping it up, Gary raised his hand.

“I have a question,” he said.

“Go right ahead,” I said. I felt some relief that he was talking again.

“Do you think there are some things that you can never make up the damage for?”

I knew this was a loaded question. The room got quiet again. There was something these men knew about Gary that I did not.

“I suppose so. Murder, for one thing, comes to mind.”

“What if you hurt someone and you didn’t mean to?”

He wanted to go somewhere with this. I knew this was thin ice for him. No one was interrupting him or participating in the topic. All the men were deferring to him for some reason.

“I think we’ve all done that…”

“Yeah, but have you ever murdered your own child?” he asked. He was looking directly at me.

There it was.

“No, I have not. I have never killed anyone.”

He nodded as an acknowledgement of my honesty.

“I was drunk one night and had my kid in the car. I crashed. She died. There isn’t a second since then that I don’t wish and pray to be dead. It should have been me.”

I did not know how to respond. I did not know what to say, so I just looked at him. He braced himself for my wrath and judgment. I had none. I only felt a great sorrow that went into my bones.

He put his head back down. I stepped forward and put my hand under his chin and forced him to look at me.

“I have no words for you,” was all I could think to say.

“Do you hate me now? Do you want me to leave because I am the most despicable person in this room? If so, I will leave and I will understand. No hard feelings.”

This man was in his own prison and always would be. There wasn’t anything else anyone could do to him that would punish him more than he already had. He would until the day he died. That was apparent by just looking at him.

“No, of course not. You can stay. I just wish I knew what to say.”

“Just don’t ask me to forgive myself. I never will.”

I nodded.  I wanted him to try to forgive himself, but there are times in life when you have to back down and let things be the way someone else wants them. As pure as your heart may be and as good as your intentions are, some people will always keep themselves in their own prison.

More people than you might realize are in their own prisons of their own making. No need to add to it. Let  them be and just do your best to love them for who they are. There is goodness in all of us.

  1. shopaholicann says:

    I think I’d have cried with him.

  2. That’s certainly a tough one, Susan, when you most likely want forgiveness/freedom for him. I know that’s what I’d want for him, and why I am writing to answer. My own tears aren’t pouring down my face, but they are coming in these words.
    When someone speaks from the heart, I’m told, one is compelled to answer from one’s own. He did that, and your account suggests that you are responding from there?
    That can be the way to continue what was begun with this man, when it seems you have been the person that drew him to speak his story.
    Coming from the heart (which, as you know, is different from the emotions) is also the strength often necessary for accompanying him past his self-imprisonment, when he’s ready. Given the opportunity, you sound like the kind of woman who will know when that happens.

    • Susan Lewis says:


      That is a very wonderful way of saying what happened. I had not thought of it that way, but it’s true. It was one person speaking to another from their heart. Maybe that was why it was almost impossible to respond with the right words because of the place he and I were at in that moment.

      I hope you are right that I will know what to do. I have my fingers crossed. 🙂


  3. torbengb says:

    just a nitpick: the first word of the last paragraph should probably be “More”, right?

    • Susan Lewis says:

      Yes! You are absolutely correct and I appreciate you pointing that out.

      I KNEW there was something off with that sentence and could not see it.

      Thank you so much!