When I was very young, there was another family that my parents were close friends with. The children were a few years older than my sisters and me, but I really looked up to them. Eventually, they each went their own ways, with the father and the youngest son, Isaac, heading to Vancouver. As a teenager, he got involved with a gang and was involved with what lead to the death of another boy. I remember my mother talking about the incident and not being sure if he actually committed the act or just took the fall as initiation into the gang, or maybe because he was a minor.
Seventeen years later, that’s hardly the issue, as he was tried in adult court and sentenced to life. In prison, he has met the same challenges that face us all, and then probably many others that I would have no idea of. He’s also become a practicing Buddhist and recently celebrated nine years of sobriety. In May, he had his first parole hearing, and his mother wrote a touching account of the experience, which she has humbly and graciously given permission for me to share.
It’s actually a wonderful story with a few lessons we all may take from it, the most important being letting go and forgiving.
Thank you, Supria Dasi, for sharing, and thank you Isaac.
in every cell, there is a Buddha to be revealed
Dear family and friends,
Tuesday, May 4th, Isaac went before the parole board for the first time in the 17 years of his incarceration. Although the officers in charge of questioning were extremely professional, we could sense their deep sense of compassion and justice, not only toward the society they were sent to protect, but the young man who sat before them.
The parole hearing scheduled for 1½ hours stretched out to 3½ hours. When it was finished, one of the officers told Isaac it was the longest in his 25 year career of sitting on the board. The depth of Isaac’s maturity was clearly modeled by his non-defensive, yet articulate response to a line of questioning that demanded he explain and take responsibility for the events that led up to and included that fateful night that would affect so many lives. When he was finished, the board asked me if I would like to speak. I only hope the deeply emotional and heartfelt response of this unworthy and unprepared mother was received in a beneficial way.
When the officers came back, they told Isaac he would receive 2 unescorted passes to the halfway house over the next 6 months. That will mean that over a weekend of 72 hours he is free to come and go from the halfway house with a curfew of 10 PM. He can also continue his escorted passes home, and at the end of the 6 months he can go before the board again to reassess the situation.
After the hearing, two women from the restorative justice faculty, Isaac’s parole officer, the victim’s mother, Dona Cadman, and her friend, myself and Isaac, met for another two hours. After asking Isaac several more personal questions about the death of her son, Dona took a bag out of her purse and handed it to Isaac. “This is a gift for you,” she said, with slightly wavering voice.
Isaac, who was taken by surprise, opened the bag to find a soft stuffed animal. Relieved from the extreme formality of the previous 4 hours I exclaimed, “Isaac, just what you wanted…a dog!”
“When you get out I am going to buy you a dog,” Dona promised. “Any kind of dog you want. Just let me know what you want, and it will be yours.”
After offering his thanks, Isaac apologized for not thinking to bring Dona a gift. “My mom always told me that wise men bring gifts,” he said, looking rather embarrassed.
After exchanging another hour’s worth of friendly conversation, he lit up and reached in his pants pocket. Taking out his keychain, he began removing a large coin with words and a triangle engraved on it.
“I just remembered,” he said, passing the coin across the table to Mrs. Cadman. “I do have a gift for you; a very precious gift from my mother. It’s a 9 year medallion given to me at my first celebration of recovery in an outside NA meeting.”
With tears in her eyes Dona got up out of her chair. “Oh, to heck with this table!” she laughed, and came around and hugged Isaac. During the long embrace she whispered something in his ear and then went back and sat down.
“And I want to apologize to you,” she said looking in my direction.
“To me?” I asked, looking very surprised.
“Yes, over all these years I have hated you and I felt guilty for being so cruel to you during the trial. You were kind to me, but I acted like a bitch to you. Everyone said that under the circumstances my behavior was perfectly understandable, but I knew different and I want to apologize.
“Well, I remember it differently,” I told her. “During the recess before the verdict came back, you and I were left alone in the hallway. I approached you and we hugged. “I’m really sorry about what happened to your son,” I said. ‘We are in this together, you know.’ And you answered, ‘Yes, but I must go now. My family is coming back and they will not understand my being here with you.’
That night I felt so alone I cried myself to sleep. Just near morning I dreamed you were leaning over my bed saying, “I’m really sorry about what happened to your son. We are in this together you know.” And just as you leaned over to hug me I woke up with my arms suspended in midair.
“Really?” she asked, looking delighted. “I’m so glad you remember it that way.”
After everyone left Isaac and I were taken downstairs. “Do you know what she said while hugging me?” he asked.
“No, what son?” I responded.
She said, “I forgive you.”