How forgiveness can break the cycle of vengeance

Lucy Purdy

Real life stories of forgiveness from the victims and perpetrators of crime and violence feature in a new interactive exhibition

True stories from both the victims and perpetrators of violence and crime are being told in a new exhibition organised by UK charity The Forgiveness Project. The F Word: stories that transform will run on the South Bank in London from 8-12 March.

Thirteen years ago, the inaugural F Word exhibition launched at the same gallery, the Oxo Tower Wharf, and led to The Forgiveness Project being founded. Its staff work in prisons, schools, community groups and companies to improve understanding, encourage reflection and help people to reconcile with pain in order to move forward from trauma.

Now, the exhibition is back featuring new stories, interactive elements and five short films that bring to life people’s personal stories.

“The sad truth is that most of us have experienced unresolved hurts and grievances,” said Marina Cantacuzino, founder of The Forgiveness Project. “In creating a brand new version of our F Word exhibition, we hope to bring to life the work we do as a charity and give visitors an opportunity to think about how their own lives relate to our stories.”

Associated events will include a ‘restorative circle’ in which participants can examine their own unresolved issues. Following its London run, the exhibition will be available to hire.


 

Stories of the ‘transformative’ power of forgiveness

 

Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel, US

On 12 February 1993, Mary Johnson’s only son, 20-year-old Laramiun Byrd, was murdered. The perpetrator was 16-year-old Oshea Israel who received a 25-year sentence for second degree murder. Many years later, Mary visited Oshea in prison and since his release in 2010 they have lived as neighbours in Minneapolis. Mary now dedicates her time to From Death to Life, an organisation she founded that uses healing and reconciliation to end violence between families of victims and those who have caused harm.

Mary Johnson with Oshea Israel, photographed by Brian Mogren

“I thought I had but I hadn’t actually forgiven,” said Mary. “The root of bitterness ran deep, anger had set in and I hated everyone. I remained like this for years, driving many people away. When he [Oshea] left the room, I bent over saying ‘I’ve just hugged the man who’d murdered my son.’ From that day on I haven’t felt any hatred, animosity or anger. It was over.”

To call myself a man I had to look this lady in the eye and tell her what I had done

Oshea said: “For years I didn’t even acknowledge what I’d done and would lay the blame on everyone else. You blame everyone else because you don’t want to deal with the pain. I was defined by my disappointment and bitterness. If I’d had more forgiveness in my life perhaps I wouldn’t have exploded at the party that night.


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“To call myself a man I had to look this lady in the eye and tell her what I had done. I needed to try and make amends. Whether she forgave me or not was not the point. Forgiveness is pretty much saying I give up holding on to that pain. Hurt people usually haven’t forgiven and have so much pain they end up causing even greater pain.”

Eva Kor, Poland

At the age of 10, twins Eva and Miriam Mozes were taken to Auschwitz where Dr Josef Mengele used them for medical experiments. Both survived but Miriam died in 1993 when she developed cancer of the bladder as a consequence of the experiments. Eva Kor has since spoken about her experiences at Auschwitz and founded The CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Indiana, US, where she now lives. In 2003 the museum was destroyed in an arson attack, believed to be by white supremacists.

Eva Kor, photographed by Grant Stapleton

“I read my document of forgiveness and signed it. As I did that, I felt a burden of pain was lifted from me. I was no longer in the grip of hate; I was finally free. Forgiveness is really nothing more than an act of self-healing and self-empowerment. I call it a miracle medicine. It is free, it works and has no side effects.

I was no longer in the grip of hate; I was finally free

“I believe with every fibre of my being that every human being has the right to live without the pain of the past. For most people there is a big obstacle to forgiveness because society expects revenge.”

John Carter, England

John Carter got involved in crime at the age of 12. After eight years in prison he met one of his victims at a restorative justice conference. He is currently working as a gardener and lives in Shropshire with his partner.

John Carter, photographed by Katalin Karolyi

“I feared being released. I questioned whether the work I’d done on myself would be enough to encourage me not to reoffend. Then a probation officer told me about restorative justice – a process that could help me understand empathy and compassion.

It was the first time I felt in person the reality of the hurt that I’d caused

“It was the first time I felt in person the reality of the hurt that I’d caused, not only to her but to her family too. After a brief pause, she said ‘I forgive you’. Those words had a profound effect on me. They gave me the resolve to not steal and to certainly not commit violence against another person ever again.”

To find out more about The F Word exhibition visit www.theforgivenessproject.com/events


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