Linda White, who visits the man who murdered her daughter in Texas, spoke about how much forgiveness has done for her at a Restorative Justice Symposium inside San Quentin State Prison.
“I was really uncomfortable with all the violent responses to violence,” White said. “It seemed to me that adding more violence onto violence, you weren’t healing anybody.”
SQ resident Troy Smith and impromptu speaker Greg Winship, a former lifer who earned a master’s degree in restorative justice, also spoke at the symposium on the theme of healing, growth and transformation.
White went first. Breathing through a tube connected to an oxygen tank, the hard-of-hearing White sat before a mixed crowd of incarcerated men and outside community members on June 17.
The trip from Texas marked her second time addressing the members of a Restorative Justice (RJ) program at Quentin.
Speaking from her heart, she used a combination of frankness and humor to tell the story about her latest visit with Gary, the man who killed her daughter, Cathy, and whom she helped get paroled.
This time SQ RJ volunteer Mac Lingo, who has seen a video of White visiting Gary in prison, asked her to take him. They went to the Catfish Kitchen in Beaumont, Texas, with Gary and his fiancée. They talked and talked and talked.
“We talked so long the waitress thought we were never going to order any food,” White said. “It was so great, so comfortable. I just feel so full of love. A little part of me says, “That man killed your daughter,” Lingo said, ‘That’s not the same man that killed your daughter.’”
Lingo said, “One of my ministries is thanking people, and I knew how much Gary’s appearance in that video was worth, and I also knew that nobody ever told him about that. It was really special. Yes, I know what he’s done, but I also saw who he’s become. We’re not meeting the man who killed her daughter. The body is the same, but the man is different.”
“I forgive you and God will too”
In November 1986 her daughter, Cathy, went missing. For five days, her family went crazy with worry. Then the bad news came that she had been murdered. White described going from shock and disbelief to total despair after hearing the news.
White learned about restorative justice by chance at a meeting in Houston. There she saw The Little Book of Restorative Justice, picked it up and read it.
In 1997, she volunteered to teach a college philosophy course in prison on death and dying. Going inside healed White.
“All my students in prison were human beings,” White said. “Many of them had been victimized in many ways long before they committed a crime. It didn’t take me long at all to see we had a lot in common. When you began to see the humanity and how many experiences that they have had and endured in prison, it’s a humbling experience.”
White decided she wanted to meet the two men responsible for what happened to Cathy. Gary agreed and from him she learned that he was a troubled kid that used drugs. She also learned that her daughter’s last words were, “I forgive you and God will too.”
SQ resident Billy Fuller told White, “I’ve seen the video, like, eight times. You are by far one of the strongest, most remarkable young ladies that I’ve ever met. I consider you my gift from God.”
Shortly after White left the podium, Smith spoke about forgiving a man that bullied him as a kid and also lives in San Quentin.
“I was bullied on a regular basis when I first came to California,” Smith said. “I dealt with bullying about eight years, and I vowed to get them all back. I got them all except one — Curtis Perry. He sucker punched me and gave me a concussion. He’s my friend now, and that happened over 36 years ago. Different people have different levels of forgiveness. This was the one time I forgave someone face to face.”
Greg Winship drove White to the symposium and wasn’t scheduled to speak until Restorative Justice Facilitator Darnell “Mo” Washington heard his story.
Winship spent over 20 years in prison. Now he does restorative justice work at the Center for Conflict Resolution in Kansas City, Mo.; in schools; and in state prisons, as well as a federal prison.
He earned his master’s degree in restorative justice from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrison, Va. Howard Zehr, author of The Little Book of Restorative Justice, delivered the commencement speech.
“Ten years from now, you don’t know where you’re gonna be,” Winship said. “Every day you spend in here is preparation for what you’ll do out there. It gave me 20 years of experience. I know the system — how can I better the system?”
Jean Ramirez added, “Greg, you are an exemplification of the power you men have. You have a power that nobody else has in terms of credibility to save others from going into that situation.”