Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – In a dramatic and emotional meeting this week, the mother of a murdered Milwaukee man embraced and forgave the man who killed her son.
Afriqah Imani’s son, Viltronia Quantrell Williams was shot and killed in 1999 by Gabriel Smith. The now 42-year-old Smith was released on parole Tuesday after serving 14 years of a 25-year prison term for second-degree intentional homicide.
Imani and Smith embraced each other when they met that day at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School in a meeting brokered by the law school’s Restorative Justice Project. Smith’s mother, Mary Ann Smith-Jackson, was also at the meeting and she wrapped her arms around both of them.
“This is a blessing, truly a blessing,” said Imani, who has forgiven Smith and supported his release. Imani, a devout Muslim, added that the meeting was the culmination of a 15-year spiritual journey for her.
“In our faith, if you have ill-will toward someone — if you cannot forgive — you have a dark spot on your heart that will turn to rust, just like a rusty nail,” she said. “I didn’t want to die with this dark spot on my heart.”
Jonathan Scharrer, director of the Restorative Justice Project, said Imani’s ability to forgive is unusual. Founded in 1987 as the Victim-Offender Reconciliation Project/Program, it’s now working with victims and offenders in 17 Wisconsin penal institutions. The organization has coordinated hundreds of dialogues between victims and offenders.
“There is no expectation in these dialogues that there will be any forgiveness. We don’t bring it up,” Scharrer said. Yet, he adds, the process can lead to transformative results. “People recognize the fundamental humanity in each other. And in lots of ways people are changed for the positive.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Smith repeatedly told Imani how he regretted the events of that day in 1999.
“You have to forgive yourself,” Imani told him. “I just wanted you to be able to come back to your family, because life is short.”
Read the full story written by Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel: “15 years after fatal shooting, an embrace of forgiveness.”