I found out today that the men who were responsible for our armed robbery, and similar, and worse, robberies in our area, have been convicted to life imprisonment. Regular followers of the blog will have read about the robbery, and the trauma of the Identity Parade.
My reaction was unexpected. I was immediately assailed, not with relief, or victory, but with a sense of sadness. It occurred to me that these men will never get a second chance. They have gone to gaol for life. In South African prisons, that’s hardly a welcome sentence.
I’m trying to piece my thoughts together, trying to make sense of what it is that I’m feeling, and I’m coming up with things that I would never have expected. Grief, despair, and a prevailing sense that this was not justice. That this does nothing to make the country a better, or safer place, because it fails to address the reasons these men turned violent, the reasons they turned to a life of violent crime. What happened in their lives to make them choose this road? Was it even a choice, or the inevitable result of poverty, disempowerment, being aliens in a foreign land? Nobody is born to hate and hurt. Those are traits we are taught, and in this country, they are taught to us in racial and economic terms. We’re a divided, traumatised society, a society which defines itself on our inherent differences, not on our shared humanity.
And that brings me, full circle, to that night. To the humanity which was displayed towards us. To unexpeced, albeit perverse, acts of kindness, like placing a cushion on a cold floor for me to sit on, to calling me “Ma’am”, to calling my child “my baby”, to electing to leave us unharmed, unhurt, when so many of their other victims were not. What drew us together that night was that shared humanity, that spark of something in each other that we recognised. And respected.
I can’t help wondering, if they had a chance, what they would make of it. Would they seize the chance to walk a different path, or are their hearts now so hardened that they are incapable of rehabilitation? If our legal system were different, less adversarial, could they and their accusers have found that common humanity in each other and, perhaps, forged a different path, one which could have led to closure, forgiveness, a second chance, rather than to more hate, bitterness and the knowledge that they will always be what the court has declared them to be : hardened criminals with no hope of redemption.
I just don’t want to be a part of that system. I want to make a better world. One where forgiveness is seen as a strength, not a weakness, or an aberration. One where we strive to find connection, where we don’t look for the things which distinguish us from each other but rather draw us together.
To those men, whose names I don’t even know, I have two things to say : “I forgive you”, and “I’m sorry that your path brought you here”. To their other victims, who I know suffered more pain at their hands than we did, and whose emotions, and reactions I have to respect, all I can say is “I hope that you can still find it within you to love and to forgive. For your own sakes.”