MINNEAPOLIS -- A Minneapolis community is celebrating a powerful story of forgiveness, how a mother's hatred for her child's murderer dramatically changed over 17 years.
As Oshea Israel described it, "God brought us together."
By looking at him and Mary Johnson, his arm around her, you'd think they were mother and son. But actually, he's the man who murdered her son, Laramiun Lamont Byrd.
It happened in 1993. Israel shot Byrd multiple times, his body left outside North Memorial Hospital.
Israel said, "When I took his life I just saw him. I didn't see his mother."
Johnson lived with the pain and hatred for over a decade as Israel sat in prison in Stillwater. Johnson said, "He was an animal to me and I felt he was where he needed to be. He needed to be caged."
But after 17 ½ years in prison for Israel and just months after his release, they're more than friends. Johnson said, "He's like my son."
While it seems incomprehensible, they're now working together to promote healing between families of victims and perpetrators, raising funds for a support group Johnson founded called From Death to Life. They held an event at the St. Jane House at 14th and Emerson Avenue North in Minneapolis on Saturday night called Gospel and Jazz on the Lawn.
How did their friendship begin? Johnson said with nudges from God, she eventually went to visit Israel in prison five years ago.
She said, "That was one of the most profound events of my life. It was life-changing."
She said the visit brought her to her knees. She said, "When I stood up, I began to feel something in my feet. And it just began to move all the way up my body and it just went and I knew, I knew that all the anger, all the hatred, all the animosity I had for him, I knew it was over with. It was gone."
Johnson said her son, Laramiun Byrd, was intelligent but had chosen a life path she didn't agree with. She said he sold drugs.
Israel said he sold drugs as well and was involved in gangs.
He explains why he killed Byrd. He said, "I projected on him everything I didn't like about myself, my situation, what I was going through, what I was dealing with, what I was still holding on to. He happened to be in the wrong place at wrong time and I projected on him and, as I told Mary, I was murdering a part of myself at that time."
Their new bond, fostered by her forgiveness, has taught Israel to let go of some of his anger as well and pursue a life much more positive. He said, "I've come to understand if you hold onto things, to a problem or whatever, it is pretty soon that you become the problem."
Israel's mother, Carolyn Green, wishes there had been a group like From Death to Life when she lost her son to prison. She said, "Some of it I can't remember anymore because I think I blocked it out because the pain was so extensive. It was so excruciating you know. My heart was in shambles. My life was torn apart."
Johnson and Israel hope to bring other families of violence together for forgiveness. They also plan to write a book together with dreams of eventually building a grief center in north Minneapolis.
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