I met Azim Khamisa as he arrived at the front entrance of the Milan Federal Correctional Institution on a cool, windy April day. He had once again made the journey from California to Michigan to speak to the inmates enrolled in the Life Connections Program, the faith-based residential reentry program for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The program has been in existence since 2002 with the purpose of assisting inmates who are getting ready to make the transition from prison to the community.
After completing the security protocol, Azim and I made our way back to the unit where about 70 men were ready in their seats to hear him speak. Once we were inside, Azim met some of our new staff who serve as spiritual advisors to the inmates, and he greeted them with a warm friendly smile. After a brief sound check, I proceeded to welcome everyone and then introduced Azim as “my good friend who has come to share a powerful story with us today.”
As I watched Azim tell the story of the death of his son Tariq, I was amazed at how quiet the room was. All eyes were focused on Azim as he shared the details of how he learned of his son’s death and how it impacted his family. I could tell that the men were completely shocked when Azim explained that he forgave Tony, his son’s killer, and later visited him in prison. For many of the men, that kind of forgiveness is difficult to comprehend.
Later, it occurred to me that the power of the story is found not only in how things turned out in the end, but the power lies in who Azim is as a human being. Azim is someone who is willing to become vulnerable for the sake of others. Vulnerability in relationships is what unites people regardless of race, ethnicity, economic status, etc. It is ultimately what leads to healing and making the world a better place.
After Azim returned to California, I interviewed some of the audience members, and here is what they had to say about Azim’s impact:
Kevin, an inmate in the Life Connections Program had this to say: “A man such as Azim Khamisa comes once in a lifetime. Those who are blessed to have heard his message truly understand what the word ‘inspirational’ means…After all that had occurred in his life, Mr. Khamisa pulled a recipe from his heart that was called forgiveness. He is a true pioneer in his quest to bring understanding and love to the world. I hope one day to be able to be in the presence of this wonderful man again. One thing is sure: God, faith, and forgiveness are real.”
Spiritual Advisor Deacon Tracy Esper reflected: “Mr. Khamisa’s message of peace and forgiveness was a welcome change for a world that seems to thrive on anger. He pointed out that angry people are not thinking people and if this is true, then we can see were some violence comes from. Mr. Khamisa was quick to point out that violence is painful for all those involved and in many cases, violence is a learned behavior. I thought that his message that forgiveness can overcome the violence we see in this world to be true. Mr. Khamisa’s visit was refreshing and enlightening.
Spiritual Advisor Dr. Brenda Jackson said: “Mr. Khamisa brought forgiveness to life through his service to the victims and the perpetrator of the crime. He demonstrated forgiveness by implementing a solution to the problems of gangs and gang pressure among our youth. He used his service of forgiving for his own self-healing and the binding of a true friendship.”
Peace and many blessings,
Azim N. Khamisa
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