‘Holding anger is a poison…It eats you from inside…We think that by hating someone we hurt them…But hatred is a curved blade…and the harm we do to others…we also do to ourselves.’
When we are wronged, it is easy to become bitter and cynical. Often our anger turns into hate, which only serves to harm us more than the people who have wronged us. Learning to forgive and move on can be one of life’s toughest lessons. Ricky Jackson, a man who was released from prison in 2014 after serving 39 years for a crime he did not commit is a shining example to all of us on how to do exactly that.
Ricky Jackson’s story
Jackson was convicted of the murder of a man named Harold Franks, along with two friends, in 1975, at the age of 19. The evidence against Jackson was all based on the witness statement of a thirteen-year-old boy, on a school bus that was a block away from the scene.
The boy, Eddie Vernon, was challenged by classmates at the time, as they all claimed that it would have been impossible for him to have seen the murder from where the bus was.
There was no further evidence presented to the jury in Cleveland, Ohio, to back up the unreliable witness statement, but it was enough to see Jackson sentenced to death. Jackson and his friends only avoided execution because of a paperwork error, which opened up the opportunity for them to appeal their charges.
At an appeal hearing in 2014, Vernon finally admitted that it had in fact been impossible for him to witness the crime from his position on the bus. He went on to claim that he had been coerced into testifying against Jackson by police. The case once more highlights the flaws in the US justice system.
‘The scale of the miscarriage of justice in Ricky Jackson’s case is staggering,’ said Clive Stafford-Smith, the head of Reprieve, a London-based human rights charity. ‘Much of what went wrong in Mr. Jackson’s case is very familiar: a witness coached by the police into a version of events that would gain an easy conviction; a woeful lack of reliable evidence linking him to the crime; inept lawyering, especially for poor people; a jury or judge not willing to countenance doubt; and a ‘justice’ system where, once convicted, it becomes nearly impossible to overturn a sentence.’
Thanks to his team of lawyers, Jackson will now receive $2 million in compensation. However, no matter how high the sum of money is it can never adequately compensate for taking away nearly forty years of his life and preventing him from living a normal life.
Faced with such a tragic situation, it would be understandable for Jackson to be bitter and angry. However, his attitude towards the situation encapsulates the enduring power of the human spirit.
When he was asked if he felt angry about his incarceration after his release, his answer was truly inspiring. ‘A lot of people will want me to hate that person and carry animosity towards him but I don’t,’ he said. ‘As far as that young man is concerned I don’t hate him, I just wish he has a good life… it took a lot of courage to say he lied. In the end, he came through for me and I’m grateful.’
Rather than dwelling on what had been lost, Jackson pledged to make the most of his new-found freedom and to live as wonderful a life as he could. His anger and bitterness were non-existent, he accepted the reality of his existence.
According to the respected therapist, Dr. Andrea Brandt, forgiveness teaches you to embrace your life for what it is and move forwards. ‘By forgiving, you are accepting the reality of what happened and finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it.’
This forgiveness thought process is echoed by the world-renowned spiritual author, Dr. Wayne Dyer, who saw holding onto rage as a way of polluting the human condition. ‘If you’re filled with anger, you are one more person who contributes to the pollution of anger,’ he said. ‘Instead, remember that you have no need to wrong others or to retaliate when you’ve been wronged.’
These lessons are ones that Ricky Jackson learned instinctively over his 39 years in prison. However, they can be learned by each of us if we take the time to educate ourselves spiritually. Jackson is an example of how to move on from pain and suffering, in order to maximize the short time we are given on this earth.