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by: Bill Greer, Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul

Each time the barbed-wire fence closes behind me and I see the men sitting in a circle waiting for me, I begin to pray, "Please Lord, I want them to see You in me."

I'm often asked to speak to inmates about being the victim of crime. On March 23, 1995, my 17-year-old daughter, Nicole, opened the door of her father's house to a 16-year-old young man named LeVaughn whom she knew. LeVaughn came into the house and they began to argue over drugs.

LeVaughn picked up the butcher knife from the kitchen counter and stabbed Nicole to death. My only child lay dying on the floor of the living room, her eyes still open. The last sight she saw that day was the face of the young man who was killing her. This young man whom I had never met in my life, came into my life that day and changed my life forever.

I buried my daughter, and one week later the District Attorney informed us he was asking for the death penalty for LeVaughn. He began telling us how he wanted to try the case, and then he proceeded to ask us if we believed in the death penalty. Everyone said, "yes," except for me. I said "no."

I don't believe in murder. Murder is murder, no matter how you look at it. It was no more right for me to take LeVaughn's life then it was for him to take Nicole's life. I did not need revenge.

I waited one year to be faced with the young man who had changed my life forever. He was hostile and angry during the trial. My greatest fear was that he would get the death penalty and that I would then have to fight to never allow that to happen. But God knew that wasn't how He wanted me to spend my time. LeVaughn was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to thirty-eight years with no probation.

God had other plans for my life. LeVaughn still looked angry when he was sentenced two weeks later. Only now, he was sitting right next to me as I stood at the podium to address the court and the judge, but I was warned not to address LeVaughn. I was told I couldn't speak to this person who had changed my life forever, and he was sitting right next to me.

I began reading what I had written and then God spoke to my heart. I needed to talk to this young man. It might be my only opportunity. I turned and looked into his face. This was the face that my daughter saw as she lay dying on the living room floor just one year ago, and now I was looking into that same face. I told LeVaughn that I was not angry with him, but that I felt very hurt. I told him that I had compassion for him and that I hoped that he could somehow find a way to turn his life around.

And lastly, I told him that I would be praying for him. The face that was so full of anger was now looking at me in disbelief, and the anger was gone.

When I walked away from the courthouse that day, I knew that God had given both of us a gift. It was the gift of forgiveness. I was able to forgive the young man who murdered my daughter. Not because he asked me too, but because it was what God wanted for both of us. God was never going to be able to use me if I was angry. Forgiveness brings peace. And with that peace comes overwhelming joy. The joy of knowing that God will forgive me just as I have forgiven.

Two years ago, I became a Prison Fellowship volunteer. I also volunteer for the Pre-Release Programs in several prisons in my area. I do a Parenting Program, Personal Development Program and the Victim's Sensitivity Program. I have also become a trained mediator, mediating minor offenses for the District Attorney's Office, and I'm currently working on a program to do mediations between victims and offenders of violent crimes. I believe in rehabilitation.

As I walk out of the prison I feel so much peace. I don't see myself as a victim. I see myself as someone who has had something happen in my life, and I chose to let God use it so that I might be of greater service to Him. There is a sense of God's presence in prison. God is everywhere, even in prison. And to think I might never have known that -- if I wasn't able to forgive.




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