I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had made just one small decision to alter my path away from the destruction and pain that I was going to cause. These words played over and over like a worn-out tape in my mind.

For so many years it felt good to torture myself for what I did. The toxic shame I felt helped me to believe that I was a damaged and deeply flawed person that had no chance of changing. Living a lie was easier than living with the truth. I believed I wasn’t worthy of forgiveness. Self-forgiveness seemed wrong because I felt it was like saying that what I did was okay. So, I continued to live in denial, drinking a daily poison of self-deception. Who wants to live with what they did when they have destroyed lives by taking someone’s life? I didn’t want to live with the truth of what I did. It felt easier to live in disbelief and self-punishment while I blamed others and minimized my crime.

Being in a prison environment can also help to strengthen one’s dishonesty. It is hard to feel remorse in a place that can be brutal. As sad as it is to admit, I did not feel sorry or remorseful for my first 10 years because I was too busy trying to survive. I was focused on taking care of myself and playing the victim role.

Forgiving myself took many winding roads. My parole denial reminded me that I had only put a band-aid on it. I painfully learned that not forgiving myself damaged me, stunted my growth, and continued to hurt many people. I even decided to be dishonest in my public hearing because I was afraid of the truth. I was afraid of what people would think of me and the abandonment that could occur from family and friends. I chose to continue to live a lie to stay in prison instead of telling the truth and taking full responsibility for my crime. I chose to imprison myself internally and externally instead of choosing freedom. My entire soul clenches in disgust just writing that. This is what unforgiveness does!

I had three choices after my denial: take my own life, continue to live in a pit full of lies, or have a total confrontation with myself, make things right, and most importantly acknowledge the truth. Sometimes it is incredibly difficult to face the truth when your distorted thinking forces you to ask yourself questions like “HOW COULD I HAVE DONE THIS?” and “WHAT WAS I THINKING? THAT WASN’T ME!” It was very hard to reconcile the behavior when I knew in my heart that it wasn’t the way I would have acted if I had been thinking clearly.

People can change. Do you agree?

Once I learned the power of forgiveness, I then had to first learn how to forgive myself. I began to see the truth of what I did, which flooded my emotions with remorse, regret, and sorrow. I started to see the impact of my crime and how I inflicted so much pain and suffering on my victim’s family, my family, and the community as a whole. I saw the importance of faking the cold, hard reality of my evil actions. The guilt felt immensely painful when I imagined the hurt I caused and saw the destruction I placed in their lives.

I can’t change what I did. What is done is done. I am accepting it. I am starting to heal and make things right. I am learning how to develop genuine compassion for myself and others. I am now owning up to what I did while enduring the honesty about my experience of darkness. I know now that forgiveness is the foundation to my healing. At times, I struggle to really accept the good person I am today because of my horrific act, but I am seeing the goodness in me everyday. I will get there.

You may wonder why I wrote about how hard it is to forgive. I’m sure many find it easy to do so, but it wasn’t easy for me. It was like cancer was eating me inside and not even knowing I had cancer. And I am in an environment filled with negativity. It can teach you to hate people, to be more of a criminal, and to be judgemental towards others. A place that continues to induce more punishment. There are hardly any program opportunities with a life sentence. It’s difficult, but it is possible. It starts with the self. I started wanting help and insight into why I was such a monster and messed-up person, wondering if I could ever be fixed. People can change. Do you agree?

It is not easy. There are so many obstacles to overcome. Mine was to confess and take possession of my life and my distorted thinking. I was able to accomplish so much and be blessed with caring for and training shelter dogs. I became an artist that donated my work to society’s non-profits. I learned the power of facilitating classes and tutoring VPP. It felt good to help people. Going from hurting people to helping people is a feeling I can’t describe. All this because I wanted to change and better myself. But, I missed one important puzzle piece which was forgiveness. It was the final key to my life’s redemption, and to finding peace and love. I can only hope that as I take this journey and live by my truth, I will help others that are dealing with a troubled past and stop the cycle or hurt.

I am not the same person I was 25 years ago. I wish I could wave a magic wand and change what I did. It’s just not possible. What is possible is continuing to practice forgiveness and continuing to open my heart to better myself and create closure. They say we don’t get to choose our beginning, but we can choose our ending. My story is simple: forgive and live.