UNLIKELY FRIENDS is a new documentary by Leslie Neale of Chance Films that follows the stories of survivors of violent crime who forgave the men who harmed them and ended up becoming friends with them. The film delivers a message that these relationships don't coddle criminals. Instead, meeting with a victim forces a perpetrator to recognize the consequences of his act, to develop empathy and remorse, and experience profound change.
We watched the film together on August 5th, and some of the men wrote their responses.
Unlikely Friends for me was a painful reminder of all the hurt I’ve caused to countless people. Something that I’m not too far from since I’ve only been out of prison for about 13 days after doing 25 years for killing a friend of mine.
In those 25 years I had the opportunity to do a lot of thinking to try to figure out where so many things in younger years went wrong, it can all be summed up, I guess, in a few short words. When I was able to figure out that doing the right thing, to honor the countless people I hurt, I found a sense of peace and doing the right thing became easy and I began to enjoy my life, and somehow I was freed.
Kenneth R. Martin:
It takes a strong person to forgive a person whom has murdered their loved one. In a situation where a person would’ve murdered my loved one, what would I do? I know for sure that the word forgive-ness would never be a part of my vocabulary. An eye for an eye, anger, hatred, and revenge would be more like it.
As I watched the documentary, feelings of shame, sorrow, regret, and even a percentage of self-anger developed within me for being the cause of my committing the worst act a human being can commit against another human being. I thought about the ripple effect of my decisions that day, June 6, 1990: the fact that I never took into account the feelings of Gary’s family members, the community, my family, and the continued fears that I so selfishly partook in.
I understand today that the way I allow myself to think will inevitably manifest in my actions. The way I perceived myself is how I was willing to introduce myself to the world.
For a long while I was ignorant of the fact that Gary had people who loved him. And it wasn’t until my own mother passed away that I under-stood the almost unbearable pain and suffering my soul was in, that I began to think about Gary’s mother and the rest of his family and friends. I began to ask questions, did he have any children, was he married, was he the breadwinner of his family? All of these questions brought me closer to understanding the impact of what I had done.
Like the mother in the film, I could not understand what had happened inside of me but something happened that compelled me to forgive myself because I believe in order for one to righteously be forgiven, one has to forgive him or herself for all of the wrongs he or she caused.
The film was very profound. It gave me a direct look at how crimes, how my crimes had an effect on family members.
When I first got out I really couldn’t believe it. I was thankful because at one point in my life it was something I believe that might not happen. I accepted the possibility of me spending the rest of my life in prison. All I could think about is how I will be able to spend time with my family. I
felt guilty at the same time because from what has happened, my victim’s family took a back seat from the happiness I was feeling. My focus went from always thinking what I had done to what possibilities I am facedwith.
The best thing I could do is pray for them. I now honor my victim by making wise decisions and commit myself to give back. I made a pledge to some kids to do something for them next summer so that they will have something to motivate them as they endure the school year. It gave me a sense of purpose and a good feeling because I now know I’m not just living for myself.
The film reminded me that the healing is not over. That it is important to continue seeking to grow and help someone else.
I need to self-check my attitude of, “I don’t care – it’s in the past, I can move on." What this process offers is a peace of mind and happiness because it is about appreciating life as it is. That life is a privilege that should be cherished. It reminded me that I did not get here by myself. An
act of kindness is what really got me through my barriers.
For myself I believe everything I saw, and heard in the video. I, as a former lifer inmate, I was involv-ed in programs just like “Unlikely Friends”. I was in three groups at Avenal State Prison called “Victim Awareness.” The victims' mothers would talk to us and tell us the pain we caused to them and their families. They would look right at us while they are crying. I myself felt so bad for my victim, and his family.
I, later, after the group, felt so sorry for all the people I had hurt in my life. My victim and his family, my family, friends, the community, the tax payers, etc. Groups like those sure changed my ways of life, I thank God for that. I also thank all the people that played a part in my life in making parole.
This film brought to mind the importance of forgiveness from the victim’s standpoint because it acts as the catalyst to begin the healing process for the victim and allows them to move forward.
While I was incarcerated, I was able to meet with several victims of violent crimes and yes, hearing their stories enabled me to fully understand the degree of pain that my own actions caused the victims in my personal case. I was able to fully define what empathy was by listening to their tragic stories. I sensed they were seeking to begin the healing process, to forgive and move on. My own healing process, I believe also began at that point.
I truly believe that these interactions between victims and perpetrators of violent crimes are beneficial to both sides and should be encouraged whenever possible. I consider myself fortunate to have participated in several of these interactions. I’m a better person today because of them.
Victims, who are we? We are all victims in one form or another. All of us have suffered physical and emotional pain, and yet, we go on in
life. There must always be victims and non-victims. After all, our innate makeup calls for us to have feelings for people suffering.
All of the victims in the film seemed to feed off the offender’s feelings in the crime. To them, it was a non-medicated way to feel better, feel love, feel pain, and feel, for the most part, feel a solution to their loss.
The fact that they thought they were making a positive change in someone's life was a spiritual thing that was good in God’s eyes.
What I’ve learned is that one must change their life before they can change someone else’s life. The victims needed change before the criminals. It was, sadly, only the crime that brought out who they were. So with this change, it was okay in their hearts. That's the wonderful and not so wonderful thing about human beings.