Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?

Yard SignsThe New York Times??-??The Jan. 6 issue of The Times Magazine features an intriguing story from Tallahassee, FL, about parents Kate and Andy Grosmaire whose deeply held religious faith led them to forgive the man who murdered their 19-year-old daughter in March 2010. The killer was no stranger to the Grosmaires; he was their daughter???s boyfriend, Conor McBride, who shot Ann Margaret Grosmaire in the head after the two had been arguing for hours.

This story, however, goes beyond a heinous crime, a repentant lawbreaker and a typical punishment. While first degree murder in Florida usually carries a mandatory life sentence or, potentially, the death penalty, the Grosmaires sought to have Conor’s sentence reduced through a a concept called “restorative justice” which considers harm done and strives for agreement from all concerned ??? the victims, the offender and the community ??? on making amends. Partly as a result of that process, Conor was sentenced to 20 years in prison plus 10 years of probation instead of receiving??a life sentence or the death penalty.

Read the full story and consider for yourself the challenging questions presented by??“Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?”

I recently read that we should forgive those who not only wounded us but also wronged us at the same time. In my understanding, “wronging someone” suggests that we offer forgiveness to those who not just hurt us but treated us “unjustly”. However, I was wondering about cases where someone hurts the other person by mistake or without any ill intention. For example, think about car accidents. In most cases, a driver wouldn’t intentionally try to get involved in an accident, but it happens and the damage/ injury can be quite serious. Do we forgive or have the right to forgive those who we think that made mistakes but wounded us badly? Thank you very much!

If we are wounded by someone’s mistake, this can still be viewed as an injustice. Let us take your car accident example. Yes, the driver who hits another may have the best of intentions, but he/she might have paid much better attention, given the grave consequences of a lapse in concentration. There are injustices of commission and omission. An injustice of commission occurs when the other intends wrong. An injustice of omission occurs when the person does not intend wrong but at the same time fails in some way, fails to act as he or she should. Not paying attention on the road is an injustice of omission and can be forgiven.

I’m 16 years old and lately I’ve been feeling guilty because when I was about 8 or 9 years old I lied on my teacher that she choked me. She was really mean and she ran up into my face and yelled at me but she didn’t choke me. I don’t know why I said she choked me. Now I want to ask for forgiveness and I’m trying to find out what her address is so I can send a letter. What should I do?

It is courageous of you to want to ask forgiveness from your teacher. When we seek forgiveness, please remember the “3 R’s” of remorse, repentance, and recompense. Remorse is the inner sorrow for what you did. Repentance is knowing you did wrong and wanting to make it right. Recompense is what you do now in a behavioral sense to make it as right as you can. When you write the letter, please keep the 3R’s in mind. They may help you craft a focused and sincere letter. By the way, the letter itself is probably the recompense in this case.

Regarding finding the teacher, is she still working? If so, send your letter to her at the school. Is she retired? If so, send the letter sealed in an envelope addressed to the principal. Ask the principal (in a separate letter addressed to him or her) to forward your letter to the teacher. Please be sure the letter to the teacher is in its own sealed envelope for the sake of privacy. You can always follow up with the principal to be sure your letter was forwarded to the teacher.

Finally, the teacher’s strong reaction may have been an injustice to you. If you think that is the case, then please work on forgiving her for the strong reaction. Feeling like you were going to be choked may be sufficient grounds for your forgiving her.

Thank you for having the courage to do all of this.

What if I keep offering the goodness of forgiveness to someone and they just do not accept it? It seems to me that this is an occasion for the other to take advantage of me. It also is an occasion to wear myself out by being good with no return of this from the other. What do you think?

Yours is an important questions because, unless we make some important distinctions, you could wear yourself out, but it would not be because of forgiveness. First, let us discuss the issue of your offering forgiveness and the other rejecting it. Suppose, instead of the virtue of forgiveness, you were exercising the virtue of justice and every time you are fair to someone, he or she is not fair to you. Would this stop you from being fair? Woud you, for example, start to be unjust? No, you would persist. Why? Because it is good in and of itself to be just even when others are not. It is the same with forgiveness. It is good in and of itself to offer mercy even if everyone around us is unmerciful.

Now to the second point of wearing oneself out. You can practice forgiveness from a distance without necessarily reconciling with someone who continually takes advantage of you. In other words, forgive but then carefully consider what is fair and reasonable to effect a reconciliation with the person who could wear you out.

Is Forgiveness a Sign of Weakness?

“Many people are hesitant, even afraid, to forgive because they fearThe Forgiving Life that the other will take advantage of them. Forgiveness is for wimps, I have heard many times. Yet, is that true? Is the offer of goodness, true goodness, extended from a position of your own pain, ever done in weakness? How can one offer goodness through a position of pain and see it as weak? And see the giver of this goodness as weak? My point is this: We all may need to delve more deeply into what forgiveness is so that we can make the best decisions possible for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for the ones who hurt us.”

Excerpt from Chapter 3 of The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love by Dr. Robert Enright.

Dr. Bob

Mother Preaches Forgiveness Less Than a Week After Her Sons are Killed

The Tragedy of Life QuoteThe Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach, FL – Isidro Zavala, dressed in black and with a gun in hand, stormed through his former home earlier this month, strangled??his two young sons and then killed himself, even as his estranged wife, Victoria, pleaded for him to kill her instead of the boys. Police said Isidro told his wife he would keep her alive so she could live with the pain of not having her children.

Less than a week later, at the funeral service for the three Zavalas, Victoria offered forgiveness to her late husband. “Today, I choose to extend the forgiveness that exists in Jesus Christ,” she said.

Ivette Eligio, the boys??? older cousin,??also spoke at the funeral and said that just as Eduardo and Marco had taught them many lessons during life, they continue to do so in death.

???As a last hoorah, they???re trying to teach us how to forgive,??? Eligio said.

Read the full story: “Boynton mother preaches forgiveness.”

Is This the One Weakness in Forgiveness as a Moral Virtue?

Agape LoveSuppose that Angela has been friends with Barretta who has neglected the friendship now for over a year. Barretta’s flaw is of a passive nature, not being present in the friendship. The neglect has hurt Angela.

Angela sees that Barretta is not a good friend and decides to end the friendship despite her active attempts to reconcile. At the same time, she forgives her. Her forgiveness leaves open a kind of sisterly-love for Barretta that now makes it more difficult to leave the friendship.

In this case, is forgiveness a process that is standing in the way of the truth: that Barretta will not make even a reasonably minimal friend for her? Her feelings of sisterly-affection, which are kept alive by forgiving, are making her re-think her decision to leave a friendship that holds no future if Barretta’s behavior remains as it is.

In this case, is forgiveness a weakness in that Angela retains affection that continues to hurt her? The short answer is no, forgiveness itself is not weakness, but the failure to make distinctions in this case could be the weakness. Here are some important distinctions for Angela to make:

1. There is a difference between forgiving-love and sisterly-love toward Barretta. Agape is a love in service to others as we see and appreciate their inherent worth. Philia (brotherly- or sisterly-love) is the kind of love that is mutual between two or more people. In the case of Angela and Barretta, the love is no longer mutual. If Angela makes this distinction, then she will see that philia no longer is operating between them

2. There is a difference between feeling warm toward someone and the pair acting on it in friendship. While Angela might feel a warmth for Barretta, kept alive by forgiveness, she cannot let her feelings dictate her actions. She must stand in the truth and do so with a strong will. A strong will works in conjunction with the soft feelings of forgiveness.

3. There is a difference between practicing forgiveness as a lone moral virtue and practicing it alongside justice. When forgiveness and justice are teammates, Angela is more likely to conclude that even though she has warm feelings for Barretta, there are certain troubling behaviors she shows that work against a true reconciliation (because Barretta remains without remorse, with no signs of repentance, and no signs of making things right).

4. While it is true that her vigilance in forgiving may keep alive agape love in her heart (with accompanying warm feelings toward Barretta), those feelings, while perhaps uncomfortable, are not nearly as uncomfortable or damaging as resentment. Forgiveness will not lead to a pain-free solution in this case. It will lead to standing in the truth of who Barretta is (a person of worth) and whom she is incapable of being to her (in the role of friend). It will lead to feelings that may be uncomfortable (the warmth of agape without appropriating this in a friendship with Barretta) but manageable. Angela needs to distinguish between the discomfort of a retained agape love and the considerably more uncomfortable feelings of resentment.

When these distinctions are made, forgiveness is not a weakness even in this example.

Dr. Bob