Christian and Muslim Prisoners Forgive Each Other

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“The longer I held it to myself, the angrier I got. But, God had another plan. I understood that the killing of my brothers stops with me.”

By Juan Haines, San Quentin News Managing Editor

For years, a Christian and a Muslim prisoner lived in the same housing unit, mentoring their fellow convicts.

One was a church elder, the other a military veteran and self-help facilitator. Each knew little of the other’s past — one had murdered the other’s uncle, while the nephew vowed one day to avenge his uncle’s death.

When the two eventually met to reconcile the past, more than 100 inmates stood in a prison chapel, clapping their hands to the rhythm of a tambourine and singing, “I got a feeling that everything is going to be all right.”

“Twenty years ago, I committed a crime. I murdered Mr. Brian Thompson,” Derrick Holloway told the audience. His sermon centered on the importance of forgiveness.

Holloway compared un-forgiveness to dropping an anchor and saying, “This is where I’m going to be. Like with brothers and sisters, the justice system, cellies, friends, different faiths. The Lord is challenging us to pick up that anchor, because a storm is coming.”

Holloway invited the nephew of the person he murdered to the stage.

Abdul Raheem Thompson-Bonilla walked up to Holloway, embraced him and with tears in his eyes said, “I want him to share some words; it’s a funny thing, how men have thoughts, and God steps in. God has showed favor on me and opened my heart.”

The audience stood up and gave applause.

Thompson-Bonilla told the audience what 18 years of unforgiving and vengeance could do to a person.

“The longer I held it to myself, the angrier I got. But, God had another plan. I understood that the killing of my brothers stops with me,” he said.

“I could not deny the favor of forgiveness that God has given me. So, when it came to my brother, Holloway, I looked him in the eye, and told him that I forgive him.”

Holloway went on to talk about the meaning of true forgiveness.

“We need to forgive each other without condition,” he said.

“To be long-suffering with your brother,” he continued. “If you want forgiveness, you’ve got to give it. When you sit in that boardroom, you want forgiveness. We in prison have a way of pushing away some inmates who committed a certain kind of crime, but we have to forgive everyone. In order to have forgiveness, there must be dialogue. If there’s going to be real forgiveness, there must be some type of dialogue. I think that Victims Offender Education Group has it right when they make people write a forgiveness letter. You have to have a conversation.”

Holloway warned of the dangers of not forgiving, or saying, “I’m not going to forgive.”

“I believe that many of us, right now, are seeing the faces of those to who we are saying, ‘I will not forgive.’ Like the one who told on me, I would not forgive. My brother, I would not forgive. My pastor, I would not forgive. My enemy, I would not forgive. My wife, I would not forgive. This is not a Christian thing, this is not a religious thing,” Holloway said. “It’s a human thing. We all need to forgive in order to defeat our enemy.”

He said that the enemy keeps the door of un-forgiveness open. “There are a lot of us who have these places of un-forgiveness.”

“The foundation of what Christ did was forgiveness. So, if the enemy knows he can shake your foundation of forgiveness, then he has you,” Holloway warned. “Father forgive them, because they know not what they do,” Holloway read from the Bible.

Holloway invited everyone in the church to come forward if they had issues of un-forgiveness that they’d like to address.

More than half the church went forward as a pastor prayed that they’d find forgiveness in their lives.

“Dear Lord, I give you all the hurt that I’ve done to others. Today I give it all to you,” the pastor said. “Every bit of it. Today, you break the pain and anguish. So that the men here can walk out of here free. No one will leave this place the same.”

Thompson-Bonilla thanked everyone who facilitated the meeting, including other veterans and all his Muslim brothers, who he said didn’t know the particulars of why they were in church that day.

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