Dear Mr. *****,
I am writing this letter to share with you what has been on my mind and heart for several years now. For the last few nights, I have stayed awake writing this letter in my head, and each time, I found myself mentally balling up the pages. I just couldn’t find the right words to convey how deeply remorseful I am for causing your death. Somehow saying I’m sorry for robbing you and your family of your life seems too small of a gesture.
Every time I thought back to that fateful night, I found myself asking the question, “Why didn’t I just walk away?” When I finally found the answer, I understood for the first time the true meaning of the words weakness and strength. See, all along I had twisted their meanings around in my head. I thought walking away from an argument would make me appear weak and make me a loser. But in reality, it takes strength to walk away from conflict, and back then that was something I was lacking.
Instead of being strong and powerful as I imagined myself to be, I was the epitome of weakness. I was afraid, and I allowed my fears to dictate my actions. See, I was wearing a mask of ‘street toughness, however just below the surface of the facade I wore was deep-rooted fears and insecurities.
See fifteen months prior to me shooting you, I myself was shot in a similar incident. I didn’t ask for help nor seek counseling, for what I now understand was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Like many victims of gun violence, I allowed the fear from my shooting to consume me. Instead of seeing it as an isolated incident, I programmed myself to think that it could happen again at any given moment. I became desperately angry because anger was the only emotion that could conceal the fear I had inside of me. Anger became my shield and carrying a gun with me everywhere I went became my sword of comfort. When we encountered each other on that fateful night, I was already programmed to kill. I had convinced myself that it was better to shoot than to be shot. In my mind at the time, it was easier to shoot than to walk away, and sadly, it took me years to understand how wrong I was.
For years, I blamed you for making me mad enough to shoot, but I now realize that no one can make me feel anything I don’t want to feel. I also blamed your death on the fact that we were both intoxicated, but I now recognize that the thought to shoot anyone I perceived as a threat had been planted long before we met. I blamed everything and everyone but myself, even though I plead guilty. See, pleading guilty was easy because I knew I had violated the law, but it didn’t mean I was taking full responsibility for causing your death. It wasn’t until I was ten years into serving my sentence that I began to take responsibility for causing your death. It started with a letter I received from my son. His letter made me face up to the fact that it was my thinking and the choices I made that caused your death and led to me serving out my most promising years in prison.
Today, when I look back, I wish I could change the past. I wish I would have never carried or decided to use a gun. I wish I would have sought out treatment. More than anything, I wish I could restore your life so that your children could enjoy the safety and security of having a father in the house. I truly wish I could bring you back to life so that your wife could enjoy the presence of her husband and your parents could see you reach your dreams and goals.
I know saying I’m sorry can never restore your life or make your family whole again. However, I believe in the power of atonement, and I have taken responsibility for taking your life by dedicating my life and talents to atoning. For the last five years, I have been actively involved with anti-violence organizations as well as organizations that work with at-risk youth. I use my gift of writing to share our story so that others may learn from it and make wiser choices than I did as a teenager. If nothing else, know that your life and the time I am serving in prison hasn’t and will not be in vain.
Lastly, I hope at some point that you can find it in your spirit to forgive me. I learned about the power of forgiveness from your stepmother, Mrs. Weaver. She started writing me five years into my sentence. She wanted to know what occurred that night to cause me to shoot and kill you. That was one of the hardest questions I’ve had to answer; however, I knew that I owed your family closure-I owed them the truth. I responded and told them about our dispute, initially I chose to leave out that it was over a drug transaction. I didn’t feel that it was necessary for them to be exposed to that part of your life. However Mrs.Weaver said she knew there was more to the story, and I eventually told her everything. I told her that you were not at fault, and that you had got caught in the middle of a dispute that didn’t originate with you.
When Mrs. Weaver told me that she forgave me and encouraged me to seek God’s forgiveness, I took her words to heart. Although it took years before I was able to finally forgive myself, her words helped. Once I finally forgave myself, I realized that I still had a lot of work to do, but each day I am blessed with, I am committed to living my life with meaning and purpose. I am committed to making sure the young men and women in my community, know that they have options for resolving conflict besides gun violence. In fact, I am committed to ending gun violence throughout the nation. I know it’s a big undertaking, but I believe it’s a fight worth taking on. In closing know that I feel your presence every day and every time I share our story.
Read more of my story here http://www.shakasenghor.com/