Legislators learn about forgiveness, justice at hearing on innocence commission bill
Grits spent much of yesterday at the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which heard legislation calling for creation of an Innocence Commission to study the causes of wrongful convictions. As in the past when this bill has come up, several Texas exonerees testified in favor of the legislation, offering up powerful narratives of injustice that the committee clearly found moving and compelling.
Several legislators expressed astonishment that more exonerees aren't bitter and angry about what happened to them - Rep. Terry Canales said if he were falsely convicted of a terrible crime, he could be legitimately charged with arson upon exoneration because he'd want to "burn down the courthouse." To be certain, some of them do feel that way. But having had the privilege of working with exonerees for several years now in the course of my duties with the Innocence Project of Texas, the grace and aplomb exhibited by most no longer surprises me. Numerous exonerees have said the same thing to me when I've expressed similar views to Rep. Canales: They must forgive those who wronged them, for their own peace of mind. Holding on to anger harms the angry person more than it harms anger's targets, I've been told many times, which is a bit of hard-earned wisdom from which we could all benefit. The Lord's Prayer, an exoneree once told me, asks God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." He went on to add, though, that it took many years in prison before he realized that forgiveness was necessary for his own, personal tranquility. He could never be happy, never move on with his life, until he forgave those who wronged him. I've never forgotten that conversation and hope I never will. To me, that attitude represents the epitome of Christian charity at a depth so profound I can hardly fathom it.
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