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Oshea Israel wasn’t surprised when Laramiun Byrd died; after all, he’d pulled the trigger. Oshea wasn’t surprised when he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the cold-blooded murder.   

But what the victim’s mother did when Oshea was finally released from prison did surprise him.

On a chilly Minneapolis night in February of 1993, 20-year-old Laramiun Byrd – the only son of Mary Johnson – was shot to death at a party by 16-year-old Oshea Israel. Tried as an adult, Israel spent the next 17 years of his young life at Minnesota’s Stillwater State Prison, before being paroled early.  

During those long, empty years, Mary Johnson, a teacher’s aide, worked up the courage to visit her son’s killer in prison. She began the first conversation the only way she knew how: staring at her son’s murderer, she said, “Look, you don’t know me. I don’t know you. Let’s just start with right now.”

Israel admits he was “befuddled” by her efforts.

But time and time again, the humble Christian woman ventured to the prison to spend time with a convicted killer that forever changed her family. She taught him about her faith in Jesus, and the hope she had in Him. The care and tenderness Johnson showed through the prison bars only confused Israel even more.

But when he was paroled in the Spring of 2011, his confusion reached its peak. Mary Johnson put in a good word with her landlord, and helped Israel get an apartment in her complex. Oshea Israel now lives in apartment #902. Mary Johnson lives in apartment #904.

That’s right: a mother who practiced radical forgiveness also allowed her son’s killer to move in next door.  

But they don’t just live next door to one another; they live “close” to one another. Johnson has also helped Israel secure a job, as well as helped him begin college. She has even connected the ex-con to her church and community outreach groups so he can share his story of transformation through forgiveness.   

Why would a woman forgive a kid who killed her child? For Mary, the answer is simple.

“Unforgiveness is like cancer,” she says. “It will eat you from the inside out. It’s not about that other person, me forgiving him does not diminish what he’s done. Yes, he murdered my son – but the forgiveness is for me. It’s for me.”

Forgiveness. When Christians show it, lives are changed, and the world takes note.

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New Life

(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)