Stockton mayor believes in the power of forgiveness

By Rahsaan Thomas

Last year, California voters turned down a chance to end the death penalty, choosing instead to speed up the process—an indication they don’t believe murder should be forgiven. However, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs believes in forgiveness.

On Facebook, the newly elected mayor posted his acceptance of an apology from a murderer incarcerated at San Quentin.

“When I look at you, I think of Moses who committed murder but God used to do amazing things,” said Tubbs at a symposium that united survivors of violent crimes and men who committed violent crimes as juveniles.

The two groups came together to talk about rehabilitation and Restorative Justice as solutions. That was on Oct. 13, when Tubbs, then a City Council member endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, attended the Kid CAT (Creating Awareness Together) self-help group event at San Quentin State Prison.

To end structural violence, “It’s going to take people who have survived crimes, and who have committed crimes and sometimes they are one and the same,” said Tubbs.

The symposium also heard a speech from Anouthinh Pangthong, the incarcerated man who apologized for a murder he committed at 15.

Pangthong spoke candidly about the crime he committed as a gang member, his remorse and some of the factors that led to it, such as intergenerational trauma passed down from parents who fled war-torn Laos and ended up in a refugee camp.

He also talked about joining a gang in search of an identity. Then he spoke about the rehabilitative groups that helped restore his humanity, including Restoring One’s Original True Self (ROOTS), Criminal Gang Anonymous (CGA) and Victim Offender Education Group (VOEG).

“I never considered the ripple effects for pulling the trigger,” said Pangthong. “It took me writing out my crime in detail, then it hit me — the magnitude of what I’d done. That was my first assignment from VOEG. My actions … have a ripple effect that reached far out.”

At the end of his speech, Pangthong apologized directly to Tubbs for “terrorizing Stockton.”

While going to Stanford, Tubbs researched how governmental decisions affect the choices people make in the inner-city.

“Every single break from school, somebody was in prison or dead,” said Tubbs. “There had to be something going on deeper than individual choices.”

Tubbs’ dad has been incarcerated since he was 12 years old. Instead of writing off men, like his father, who have made bad choices, the 26-year old mayor came searching for a way to “take the skills and brain power to restore, create better communities and build bridges over bad choices.”

That night, after the symposium Tubbs posted on Facebook, Reflections from San Quentin:

“Afterwards, there were circles with offenders, survivors, and community members that were both healing and instructive. My circle grappled with the definition of rehabilitation and defined it as community and reciprocal accountability. The tragedy was that the brilliant and insightful men in blue found their selves and their voice while locked in cages but not in our schools, churches, or community centers. 2 of the other keynote speakers were from Stockton and are finishing their sentences before they come back home. Before I left one said, ‘Mr. Tubbs I apologize for the harms I caused our community when I was 15. (He’s now 35).’ ”

I responded with, “We forgive you, now come back and help us improve, you are part of the solution. Ironic that I would see a model of humanity, love, humility and community in San Quentin.”

Pangthong responded: “I’m humbled and touched by the mayor’s response but, the real work is still to be done. Our communities are suffering, so healing them is where my focus is.”

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