Her son was murdered in 1993. Today, she’s helping his killer rebuild his life.
In February 1993, Mary Johnson was at work when she got the horrible news: Her son, Laramiun, had been murdered.
He'd been at a party when a fight broke out, and he wound up dead.
The killer? A 16-year-old boy named Oshea Israel.
At the trial, Mary felt only rage. "In court, I viewed Oshea as an animal," she told The Forgiveness Project.
"The root of bitterness ran deep, anger had set in, and I hated everyone. I remained like this for years, driving many people away."
But one day nearly 12 years later, she read something that made her see her anger in a new way.
"Tell me the name of the son you love so,
That I may share with your grief and your woe."
So goes the poem "Two Mothers" about a conversation between the mothers of Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot, sharing in their grief over losing their sons, all the while not knowing who the other was.
"It was such a healing poem all about the commonality of pain, and it showed me my destiny," Mary said.
She decided then that it wasn't enough to tell herself she had forgiven Oshea. It wasn't enough to try to block out the memories and never think of him again. No, to forgive Oshea — really forgive him — she'd have to embrace him with love. Help him get his life together.
It was the only way to get her own life back.
"Forgiveness isn't forgetting," she said in a phone interview. "People need to learn that forgiveness is for them, not the person that hurt them."
So she went to the prison to meet Oshea face to face for the first time since the trial.
It wasn't easy. And to this day, Mary says many people still don't understand her capacity to embrace her son's murderer. But what followed was an inspiring story of healing and forgiveness of the highest order.
Listen to Mary and Oshea talk about their unlikely bond in this inspiring video: