The Other F Word

No, not that F word! I'm talking about forgiveness -- letting go, turning the other cheek. That thing our predominantly Judeo/Christian society teaches us to do but rarely means for us to practice, especially when we or our loved ones have been wrongfully and violently harmed or even worse.

When someone is gravely hurt, we cheer revenge not redemption. We don't understand if someone chooses to forgive the unforgiveable and often judge them as sick or insane. We believe punishment is the only answer for those who commit such horrific acts. Good riddance if they are locked away forever or even put to death.

It is taboo, even revolutionary, to consider forgiveness as a component to criminal justice reform, but that's just what the victims and survivors in my documentary Unlikely Friends are proposing. The film premiers Oct. 21 at 9 ET on Investigation Discovery.

Feeling unfulfilled and even unsupported by the criminal justice system in the wake of a loved one's murder, each one has sought answers from the one person who irrevocably changed their lives: the killer. They found not only the resolution they were looking for but a human connection that lead to forgiveness and, surprisingly, even friendship.

They also found that by choosing to forgive, they were released from their gut-wrenching pain. In turn, their offenders took accountability for what they'd done, which is the first step necessary for any meaningful rehabilitation.

Mark, a convicted bank robber serving decades for shooting a Wyoming State Trooper says:

It'd be really easy if he had never come into my life not to have the empathy that I have for him. And as long as he's in my life, he's the victim. I remember who got shot -- not me... We need the criminals, the offenders, to see the pain that they caused. When they see the pain, it's really hard for them to do it again.

The victims in Unlikely Friends aren't suggesting that forgiveness is for everybody. But what they are asking for is support from the criminal justice system for those who want to try. For some, meeting the person responsible for their pain helps them understand the unfathomable, For those victims fortunate enough to arrive at forgiveness, they ask to not be judged, ridiculed or marginalized by other victims' groups who focus on punishment alone.

Given that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world at nearly 2.3 million -- a whopping 500 percent increase over the past three decades -- our prisons are full and our state governments are going broke. Perhaps these victims are showing us it's time to shift our thinking away from a punishment-driven model within America's criminal justice system to one that is more enriching. By including meaningful rehabilitation and restorative justice programs, maybe just maybe, forgiveness can play a role.