A victim family member and one of three speakers at the forgiveness breakfast (A great idea for a venue, eh?)
Forgiveness: Breaking the cycle By CLAUDIA BAYLISS South Bend Tribune Staff Writer published (or republished?) Nov 12, 2008 (See the Journey of Hope connection with this one!)
SOUTH BEND--More than 100 people in our community responded to Dismas House’s invitation to attend its Forgiveness Breakfast at Sacred Heart Parish Center.
They listened on Friday to three speakers testify to the power of forgiveness: a chaplain at a maximum security prison, the victim of a violent crime and an ex-felon.
All three told stories in which forgiveness proved as strong as any superhero, able to rescue both perpetrators and victims of crime from wretched lives, and change those lives for the better.
In one story, a “macho” prisoner at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City experienced an epiphany when he realized a real man refuses to surrender to the temptation of violence.
The Rev. David Link, the event’s featured speaker and the dean of the University of Notre Dame’s Law School for 24 years, shared that story. After the death of his wife, he entered a second-career seminary, was ordained a priest and now serves as a chaplain at ISP.
Link spoke first of the essential work of Dismas House in helping reduce the rate of recidivism by offering recently released ex-offenders a place to stay as they transition back into the community. Then he made the case for the power of forgiveness.
In trying to win over his audience, Link elicited laughter when he quipped: “This is a guy who spent most of his life training prosecutors.”
At a time in his life when he should be retired and playing golf, Link said, he decided to plant his feet on new ground — doing “the most justice” by working with people in prison.
Link reminded his audience that, on the cross, “Jesus forgave Dismas for a life that had gone astray.” And He taught those who believed in Him to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
“The absence of forgiveness can bring about acts of revenge, violence, terrorism and war,” Link said. Forgiveness, however, can help curb them. As an example, he talked about Nelson Mandela — how he chose to respond when he was released after 27 years in prison under apartheid in South Africa.
Some prisoners at ISP, however, find it hard to forgive, Link said. “Even when they know that God has forgiven them, they need to forgive themselves for messing up their own lives and the lives of their families.
“They have to forgive those who abused them — often a father who beat them every day.”
And when bad things continue to happen — for example, the death of a loved one while he is in prison — a prisoner, as one man told Link, thinks of resorting to “the only two words” in his head: “suicide” or “homicide.”
Link’s stories about ISP inmates charted their sometimes barely navigable road to forgiveness. Some have discovered that not forgiving is a dead end and have begun to see that, up ahead, the road to forgiveness merges with the road to rehabilitation.
Link widened the road further when he urged his listeners to get busy forgiving and to think about getting involved with organizations like Dismas.
Journey to hope
At the Forgiveness Breakfast, another story described a daughter so consumed by anger, she lived recklessly for 10 years before seeing in herself a resemblance to her mother’s murderer.
Ruth Andrews, a resident of Cassopolis, told the story of her ongoing journey to forgiveness. Andrews, who comes from a Mennonite family, stepped off the school bus and into “the beginning of hell” in 1969 when she was 16.
The front yard of her home in Dunlap was “covered in cars parked at crazy angles.” It struck her as funny for an instant, the time it took her to realize “something was terribly wrong.”
Her 11-year-old sister had come home from school and found their mom’s body in the hallway — beaten, strangled and shot multiple times. Their mother had been raped and then murdered.
Andrews says her road to forgiveness was rocky and didn’t begin for a long, long time. She felt driven to flirt with death. “I didn’t think I deserved to (live),” she said, “because my mother was a much better person.” When she became pregnant for the first time, and later when she began sharing her story with others, her heart opened to the possibility of healing through forgiveness.
She met a man who had served time for murder, and got to know a woman whose son was on death row.
After joining Journey of Hope, an effort to abolish the death penalty, in 1993, Andrews went, in her words, from being a selfish person capable of cruelty — with no respect for life and the God within her — to a human being able to forgive.
“My biggest step was to forgive myself,” she said.
Each step freed her to push the limits of justice to include forgiveness, for example, as director of the Victim-Offender Reconciliation program in St. Joseph County (Ind.) from 1990-1993.
Today, two of Andrews’ sisters are on the road of forgiveness with her, working their way toward healing.
Making a new life
A nervous young woman who told the last story at the breakfast described herself as a person who has done wild, wicked things. For a time, she was so addicted to drugs, she loved them more than her two small children.
Mary D’Aloisio, who was released from Rockville Correctional Facility for women in December 2006, now lives in Valparaiso, Ind., and hopes to have her children live with her soon.
The road to becoming an accountable, responsible member of society was paved by an “unmerited act of grace,” she said in a more confident voice.
The people at Dismas House forgave her, she said, and then showed her how to live. And what they did for her has rippled outward, helping to heal the wounds of so many others connected to her, D’Aloisio said.
Her son and her daughter.
Her former in-laws who “never quit praying for me, though they thought I was the biggest waste ever.”
The messed-up, drug-addicted woman she counseled, who then was able to hold on.
The people at Dismas who helped her, D’Aloisio said, are all “a part of that.”
A 12-step program and volunteering at Dismas House also are helping her turn her life around, she said.
“The thing about miracles and grace and mercy is that they just keep growing,” D’Aloisio said.
Now she works as a waitress — practicing “a lit bit of forgiveness,” she notes, to the sound of laughter — while preparing to become a professional photographer.
The road best taken
The climax of the stories that the speakers shared last week illustrate a rarely understood truth, one they returned to over and over.
In the end, forgiveness is about healing. And the road to forgiveness that leads to healing is a road that can lead to a reduction in recidivism.Last week’s Forgiveness Breakfast came to an end when Janice Rauch, a current resident of Dismas House, read a poem she had written. Its lines unspooled what she has learned while living there: The love of forgiveness, which compares with God’s love, is the highest form of giving.
And what makes forgiving so special is its power to give people new life.
A nonprofit organization founded in 1974, Dismas House supports people recently released from prison or jail by providing transitional housing and needed services. Its staff — along with community volunteers and college students — works to help ex-offenders adjust when they return to the community.
Ex-offenders need support in order to be successful at making significant changes in their lives — and society needs to offer it in order to reduce the rates of recidivism and crime.
Dismas House of Michiana helps by providing room and board, transportation, job referrals, life skills counseling, and drug and alcohol counseling referrals.
At Dismas House’s Forgiveness Breakfast on Nov. 7, Bill Coleman, executive director of Dismas Inc., made an appeal for financial support. It takes $200 to get a resident started with clothes, toiletries, linens and a bus pass to look for a job, he said, and it takes $1,000 just to heat South Bend’s Dismas House in January.
For more information, call Maria Kaczmarek, executive director of Dismas House, 521 S. St. Joseph St., at (574) 233-8522.