As a criminal justice expert and consultant, one of the questions clients always ask me is about forgiveness. Often they are told to try and make amends or simply ask for forgiveness from those in their life and those they have harmed. Yet, this is rarely such a simple task and if taken lightly can cause even greater harm.
First of all I think that Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, and I have both forgiven others and been forgiven myself. But, I said forgiven not forgotten. None of us should ever forget what poor choices we make and the consequences of those choices. Too often people re-enter society from rehab or prison and feel entitled to forgiveness. There is no such thing. Forgives takes work on all sides. Simply apologizing, or as 12 step groups call it “making amends” is not enough. You must mean it and earn it.
In criminal justice circles there is a concept called Restorative Justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by crime when victims, offenders and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results can be transformational. This is much more than saying I am sorry or asking for forgiveness. It is also a way of owning one’s own actions.
Think about it- in all aspects of life we need closure and simply asking for forgiveness may be one sided. This is why forms of restorative justice work. But a key question I ask my clients when they complain about not being forgiven is simply- “DO YOU FORGIVE YOURSELF?” Ask somebody this and often the response will be “I never thought about that.” It is my experience that one should not ask for forgiveness without doing the work and starting with themselves. Once you forgive yourself the rest will fall into place.
In a world that has gone a little crazy and in times of stress, forgiveness goes a long way towards the healing that usually needs to take place. Currently, many courts and even prisons around the United States are looking into this concept to bridge worlds that have been affected by crime. Those re-entering society should always look inward first and once done- they will have a more successful time.
I know that change is possible with hard work. So now let’s all look at somebody in our life and start the process of forgiveness.
Wendy Feldman is a criminal justice expert, insider and family legal coach. She is available for private consultation on how to prepare for a successful incarceration, probation and re-entry. She is also available for media commentary and has appeared on shows from Today, CBS Early Show, Fox News and Nancy Grace. She is a weekly featured guest in the syndicated America Now radio program. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.