On an October evening in 1992, 18-year-old Misty Wallace called her parents from a pay phone outside of a Burger King in Indianapolis. As she concluded her call, a man approached and asked if she was done. When she said “yes,” the man shot her in the face. After a failed attempt to steal her car, he fled on foot, leaving Wallace lying in a pool of blood in the parking lot.
That man, Keith Blackburn, would later be arrested, charged, and convicted of attempted murder, leaving Wallace to try and make sense of what had happened and attempting to piece together a life altered by an act of senseless violence.
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there.
While in prison, Blackburn was challenged by a fellow prisoner to “change the nouns” in his life—the people, places, and things that had helped to land him behind bars. A spiritual awakening followed, as he began to take responsibility for the things he had done and the people he had hurt. “[On] my 21st birthday … I came face-to-face with a God that wanted truth and repentance,” Blackburn says. “He wanted true change, not my lies. … and truth won.”
When Wallace heard of Blackburn’s release from prison in 2001, she was terrified at the prospect of him returning to hurt her or her family. She went to the local courthouse to obtain a restraining order—and ended up coming face-to-face with the man who had assaulted her nine years earlier. The mounting fear caused Wallace anxiety attacks, and she even considered taking her own life.
Another nine years of anxiousness passed before Wallace decided to do something radical. Reaching out to Blackburn on Facebook, she sought to begin a dialogue with the man who had shot her and left her for dead nearly 20 years before.
“I’m not angry anymore,” Wallace wrote. “But I have questions.”
The discussion that started with that message has taken both victim and assailant in a direction neither could have possibly expected. Today, Wallace is a regional coordinator for Bridges to Life, an organization that seeks to bring healing to victims of crime and restoration to those who have committed those crimes. Blackburn, in addition to serving as a chaplain for the Indiana Department of Corrections, volunteers for the same organization, often appearing with Wallace on stage, speaking about forgiveness and reconciliation.
In an article for TakePart.com, Wallace and Blackburn share their story, and their hope for others in need of restoration.
“Many of the men and women we encounter in prison, they’ll never hurt another person because they can see what my crime did to a human being, to Misty,” Blackburn says. “And then the possibility opens up in their mind—what if I get a Facebook message from my victim one day? Will I be ready? I was in a position, I was ready, and my job now is to make sure others are ready.”
“You can forgive someone,” Wallace concludes. “It doesn’t mean that you have to forget what happens to you. I will never forget what happened to me. You don’t have to let that go. You can let the pain, the hate, the bitterness, and the anger—let that go. I don’t have to carry that around anymore, and it feels good. It feels good to be free.”
An effective system of justice is one that recognizes the worth and dignity of human life—of those harmed by crime, as well as those who committed those crimes. Such a system provides assistance, protection, and restitution for victims, while holding the responsible parties accountable for their actions and giving them an opportunity to make amends for their crimes. Prison Fellowship promotes reforms in the criminal justice system that will help bring healing to victims, perpetrators, and communities. To learn more about “justice that restores,” and how you can be a part of bringing about needed changes, click here.