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Real Stories of Forgiveness

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Sue Norton and Aba Gayle
 

Sue Norton

Sue Norton lives in Arkansas City, Kansas. She received terrible news during a phone call from her brother in January 1990. Her much beloved, Daddy, Richard Denny and his wife Virginia were found murdered in their home. Sueís Daddy was shot to death in his isolated Oklahoma farmhouse. The crime netted the killer $17.00 and an old truck.

Sue says she felt "numb". She couldnít understand why someone would want to hurt people who were old and poor.

The loss of her Daddy just broke her heart.

Sue sat through the trial of Robert Knighton (B.K.). She was confused about how she should feel. She tells me that everyone in the courtroom was consumed with hate. They all expected her to feel the same way. But she couldnít hate the way they did because she says, "it didnít feel good."

The last night of the trial she knew there must be another way. She couldnít eat or sleep that night and prayed to God to help her. When morning came, she had this thought. "Sue, you donít have to hate B.K., you could forgive him".

The next day, while the jury was out for deliberation, Sue got permission to visit B.K. through the bars of his holding cell. Sue relates, "I was really frightened. This was my first experience in a jail. B.K. was big and tall, he was shackled and had cold steely eyes." At first B.K. refused to look at Sue. She asked him to turn around and he answered, "why would any one want to talk to me after what I have done?" Sue replied, "I donít know what to say to you. But I want you to know that I donít hate you. My grandmother always taught me not to use the word hate. She taught me that we are here to love one another. If you are guilty, I forgive you.

B.K. thought Sue was just playing games. He couldnít understand how she could forgive him for such a terrible crime. Sue says, "I didnít think of him as killer, I thought of him as a human being.

People thought that Sue had lost her mind. Friends would step to the other side of the road to avoid her. But Sue says, "There is no way to heal and get over the trauma without forgiveness. You must forgive and forget and get on with your life. That is what Jesus would do.

B.K. resides on death row in Oklahoma. Sue often writes to him and visits occasionally. She feels that B.K. should never leave prison, but she does not want him executed. She has become friends with B.K. and because of her love and friendship he has become a devout Christian.

Sue states that some good has come out of her Daddyís death.

"I have been able to witness to many people about Jesus and forgiveness and helped others to heal. I have brought B.K. and many other men on death row to our Lord Jesus Christ. I live in peace with my Lord!"

Sue Norton is a member of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and the Kansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Sue has traveled extensively to speak to schools, churches and community groups about forgiveness and Christianity.

Sue gave an eloquent speech to the parole board pleading to save B.K.'s life.  Many of the parole board members were in tears but voted for death.  B.K. was executed by the state of Oklahoma on May 27, 2003.   Bud Welch from Oklahoma City and Aba Gayle from Oregon were both there to support BK and Sue with their loving energy.

 


 

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Winifred Potenza

Winifred Potenza lives in Santa Rosa, California. Potenzaís oldest son, Jonathan 21 and his finance, Lisa Rodriguez had just moved to Santa Rosa from their home in New York in 1989. Potenza had wanted to keep Jonathan and Lisa safe. Late one evening both young people were killed instantly when their car was struck by a drunken driver. Potenza was inconsolable. Her grief was unbearable and she often found herself walking the streets late at night sobbing and screaming.

The district attorney decided to charge the drunken driver with murder. This was the first drunk driving fatality to be prosecuted as murder in Sonoma County. (The usual charge for such a fatality is manslaughter) This charge was done with the extreme instigation of Potenza. The 20 year old driver pleaded guilty and waived his right to a trial. He was consumed by guilt and wanted to die.

Potenza was instructed to avoid any contact with the young manís family or friends. Sitting in the courtroom when the judge sentenced William to 15 years to life Potenza really saw William for the first time. In that instant she realized that he was not the monster she had been told he was. She says that she thought, "Oh, my God, this is wrong." She realized that William also had parents who loved their son. She said, "William did not commit murder, it was a tragic accident". Potenza rose from her seat and walked right past the guards to give William a hug.

Potenza forgave William and became his friend and advocate. Forgiveness helped her heal and it also helped William heal and gave him back the will to live. Potenza began weekly visits to William, first to Corcoran State Prison and then to Vacaville State Prison. Potenza says, "William is a good person. He has special talents and deserved another chance."

It was Potenza who worked tirelessly to have his charges reduced to manslaughter and have his sentence reduced. Her efforts paid off when it was discovered that William had never signed the document that waived his right to a trial by a jury. The court threw out his conviction. The district attorney was determined to get a murder conviction and the case dragged on. After seven years of imprisonment William was released on parole.

For Potenza the death of her son marked the beginning of an ambitious art project. An accomplished artist, she has been creating highly acclaimed works of art that are social messages for over 30 years. Her focus is on Peace, both personal and global. The project in Jonathanís memory is The Hearts of the World. This enormous project consists of a series of paintings on 5 by 6 Ĺ ft canvas. Each canvas depicts a heart using the design elements from each countryís symbol, and colors from itís flag. This ongoing project has sent Potenza traveling around the world to deliver the paintings to the leaders of the countries depicted. 80 of the 185 flags have been completed at this time.

Says Potenza, "Tragedy affected me terribly and beautifully. When I am working on Hearts of the World I do it in Jonathanís name and that inspires me."

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Potenza presenting her painting THIS HEART OF SOUTH AFRICA to Bishop Tutu


 

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JO BERRY-- UNITED KINGDOM 

Jo Berryís father was a member of the British Parliament.  He was killed by an IRA bomb in 1984.  Jo was 27 years old at the time.  Jo remembers knowing that she did not want to blame and become bitter.  She knew that she wanted to find a way to bring something positive out of the death of her beloved father.

Berry tells that she started a journey with no map but with a trust that step-by-step she would find her way.  In November 2000 she met Patrick Magee, the man responsible for her fatherís death. He had been released from prison as part of the Good Friday Peace Agreement.

When Jo looks back on that day, she remembers being scared. Would she regret meeting him?   Then the door opened, Patrick arrived and they sat and talked together for three hours.  This visit had a sense of intensity that Jo had never felt before.  Finally Patrick said, ďI have never met anyone like you before.  I donít know what to say.  I want to hear your pain.Ē  Although there were many difficulties, Jo and Patrick continued their meetings and became friends.  This made a profound change in both of them.  Jo came to realize that if she had lived Patrickís life, she might have done what he did.  Patrick came to realize how many innocent victims were created by his violence.

This friendship has been healing for both Jo and Patrick.  They now travel the world telling their stories.  A play, The Bomb, has been written about them.  Jo often does workshops after the play is shown, especially for young people.

Jo and Patrick now work together for peace.  They speak for The Forgiveness Project. They have spoken in Spain, Austria, South Africa and Palestine/Israel.  I hope to bring Jo to the USA to participate in the Journey of Hope.

 


Patrick Magee and Jo Berry