On the day of the sentencing of the young man who killed her son, Lisa Daniels forgave him.
“No one is the worst thing that they’ve ever done,” she said.
In a talk hosted by One Book One Northwestern, Daniels, an advocate who helps individuals find healing in the aftermath of violence and crime, spoke with Medill Professor Alex Kotlowitz about her story in front of a Zoom audience on Tuesday evening.
The two met while Kotlowitz was working on his book, An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago, which looks at the streets of Chicago and those who have been touched by violence. Daniels became part of the story in July 2012 when her son, Darren B. Easterling, was killed in a drug deal gone wrong.
While Daniels said she was confident her son’s lifestyle choices would take him to prison or his grave, she was unhappy with his portrayal in the media after his death. She said the coverage was not inaccurate, but rather, incomplete.
“His life was so much richer,” Daniels said.
Her experiences inspired her to establish the Darren B. Easterling Center for Restorative Practices to redefine the legacy of her son as well as others who lived and died like him.
Four years after her son’s death, the case came to a close. By that time, Daniels had started to speak on her son’s behalf and advocate for restorative justice, leading her to believe it was only right that the man charged with murdering her son be treated with mercy.
Daniels agreed to a plea deal and asked the judge to lower the man’s 15-year sentence. Her request was granted, and his sentencing was cut in half. After his time was reduced by four years, the man was only sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
“As he was turning to walk away and leave the room, he looked back at me and said, 'Thank you,’” Daniels said.
After the experience, Daniels was appointed by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner to serve as a member of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, an independent body of 15 that makes decisions regarding release conditions for incarcerated individuals.
“That could have been Darren,” Daniels said of the prisoners she meets. “Who we present to the world has a lot to do with the things that we’ve experienced. It takes some changing of our experiences in order for us to show up differently.”
While granting parole is not always possible, Daniels said she is one of the more “restorative minded” members of the board.
“This work that I have embarked upon, just to tell the honest story of my son’s experience, has changed the lives of so many,” she said. “Forgiveness is possible.”
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