When I was growing up I thought forgiveness was weakness. I believed you shouldn’t turn the other cheek or be meek towards those who wronged you because that’s weak. I believed you get even or you pay it forward toward someone else.
I tried to get even and stay one or two up to ease the pain and prevent myself from being hurt again. I built a wall of toughness, selfishness, anger and a hardened heart. Not forgiving, holding grudges and harboring resentment was how I chose to live. I was always taking, hurting and not giving.
There were times when I wanted forgiveness for my bad choices. Like when I cheated on my girlfriend, got caught stealing and committed murder at age 16. I wanted forgiveness, but I wasn’t willing to forgive. It was a lopsided, one-sided, double-standard, twisted belief. I wanted it for myself and not others.
Deep down inside I wanted relief, but my twisted belief only brought me a heavy burden, pain and grief.
As I got older, I experienced forgiveness in some situations with myself and others. I began to slowly pick and choose to forgive and not relive the pain of bad choices and being hurt by other people.
Then reality hit me. My mother became pregnant through rape and she exercised forgiveness to have me, love me and not give me away. My mother also forgave me for breaking her heart by committing murder at 16 and serving a life sentence.
I learned that I wanted forgiveness from my victims, the parole board, my mother and others, so I must learn to forgive. What I want out of life I have to be willing to give to life.
Today, when I choose to forgive others I choose to do it for myself. I’m tired of carrying around anger, resentment and grudges. It’s too heavy for me to carry. Too much stress. So I’m choosing to live by carrying less and to be blessed.
Forgiveness unhooks me from the past and sets me free to move forward. It’s like a boat lifting an anchor from the sea floor so it can explore more of the world. When I forgive, I am internally set free and can truly live.
Mathew Edward, 39, is serving a life sentence for second-degree murder and two attempted murders, committed when he was 16, in San Quentin State Prison. The parole board recently granted him parole; the governor decides when this year he will be released.
The Beat Within, a publication of writing and art from incarcerated youth, was founded by David Inocencio in San Francisco in 1996. Weekly writing and conversation workshops are held in California, six other states and Washington, D.C. Submissions and new partners are welcomed. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.