After 30 years on death row, can a wronged man forgive?
Glenn Ford walked free Tuesday from a high-security prison where he spent 30 years of his life for a crime he did not commit. His heartache helps open a conversation to teach kids about foregiveness.
The news of the release of Glenn Ford after being released from a Louisiana prison after 30 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, is a dialogue opener for parents to discuss with children how to get past feelings of resentment to forgive and move forward.
For 30 years, Mr. Ford maintained his innocence. During that time, his sons grew up without their father.
Ford walked free Tuesday night from the maximum-security prison after a Louisiana District Court judge vacated Ford's murder conviction and death sentence and ordered his release, according to CBS.
Ford had been on death row for the 1983 murder of Isadore Rozeman, a jeweler and watchmaker for whom he did occasional yard work.
As Ford walked away from the prison, reporter Nick Foley of KSLA News asked, “Do you harbor any resentment?”
Before I could react, my son Quin, 10, who was watching the video beside me, blurted out, “Ya think? I would. Wait, what’s ‘resentment'?”
I had Quin do the Merriam-Webster big red dictionary check and he read aloud, “…a feeling of anger or displeasure about someone or something unfair.”
“OK, I was right,” he said. “I would feel resentment big time.”
Therefore, it wasn’t a huge shock that Ford gave Mr. Foley the benefit of total honesty about his immediate feelings, even if it was with only a shrug and not the fire one might expect.
”Yeah, because I've been locked up almost 30 years for something I didn't do," Ford told KSLA. "I can't go back and do anything I should have been doing when I was 35, 38, 40, stuff like that."
He added, “My sons, when I left, were babies. Now they [are] grown men with babies,” Ford said.
It was the moment of thought and the shrug before his answer that told me that there might be hope that this man who was so wronged will not give in to bitterness.
Instead, I pray that Ford can find it within himself to get past resentment and make the most of his freedom to find healing and to re-build ties with his sons and grandchildren.
As I struggled to find ways to teach a skill I myself have difficulty mastering consistently, I found James Jackson of Virginia Beach, Va., who councils families and specializes in working with troubled teens. He’s also a former In School Suspension teacher at Hampton City Schools and the national General Secretary of the Church of God in Christ of America. [Editor's note: The name of the church in the original version has been corrected.]
“Forgiveness is not being a prisoner of your past, but being a pioneer of your future,” Dr. Jackson said in a phone interview from his home in Virginia Beach today.
Jackson recommended teaching forgiveness via the Three Ps:
The Purpose: Know that the purpose of forgiveness is to be able to move forward in life.
The Plan: Forget what is behind and press on to the mark which is moving forward each day and not getting stuck.
The Process: Do things to build yourself up, through education and finding the good things inside yourself.
Jackson said that in the case of Ford, “He needs to know he is now a part of the environment of his grandchildren and his grown sons. They will learn from him.”
“Mr. Ford has lost so much. Yet he’s going to have to lose some things to gain some things,” Jackson said. “Meaning that he will have to lose his resentment in order to gain the joy of being with his family once more.”
That reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by spiritual leader Gautama Buddha who wrote, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
My hope is that in this case, the victim will find peace, if not justice, as he settles back into a life deferred by a wrongful conviction, and hopefully renewed by the presence of his family.