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April 13th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

From anger to forgiveness: Man befriends brother's killer

By Rose Arce, CNN

New York (CNN) - The day Anthony Colon heard his older brother had been gunned down in East Harlem, he began struggling with a rage that would last for years.

The anger wore him down. He missed him desperately.

He hated the three men who had fired 13 bullets into his brother who was unarmed.

“Oh, God, it just - it just put so much hate in my life. I hated everybody. I hated everything. It made me to be a person, like a monster,” said Colon, who considered his brother Wilfredo his only stable family.

“I loved him because he always stood up for me from a little kid. He would not even allow me to fight. He would stand up for me, whatever happened, because he always saw that goodness in me.”

But as the years passed the fog of anger began to lift.

He married. Had two children. He welcomed religion into his life.

And, he was overwhelmed by a desire to find reconciliation with his brother’s killer.

“I just wanted it to be OK,” he said.

Then one summer day, a chance encounter while visiting a friend at the Eastern Correctional Facility in Ulster County, New York, changed his life.

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He looked across the room and saw Michael Rowe, one of the men who had murdered his brother.

Rowe saw him too and tried to duck down.

“I was expecting that we would be you know, it would be a fight, some type of physical violent altercation ,” said Rowe.

Rowe recalls feeling remorse and shame, unable to forgive himself for murdering another young man – and afraid of retaliation.

Colon walked straight up to him and said: “Brother, I’ve been praying for you. I forgave you. I’ve been praying I would see you again.”

The meeting would transform both men’s lives.

Rowe had married the same girl he was dating when he went to prison. They were able to have three children together during his imprisonment, and he wanted desperately to parent them even as he served a sentence of 20 years to life.

“I figured I would die in prison. Or at least leave there a very old man with grey hair,” he said.

“I still don’t think that I’ll ever truly be able to forgive myself because of the things that I’ve done. Because I take full responsibility for what I did. And I completely, and as best as anyone could, understand the pain that I have caused.

“I think for me, forgiveness will come in doing good works, trying to help others. But as far as forgiving myself I don’t think I will ever get to that place.”

In prison he was befriended by Julio Medina of Exodus Transitional Community, which prepares inmates for their release.

Rowe studied and soon he got an associate’s degree, then a bachelor’s. As he was studying for his master’s degree in Professional Studies, Colon began visiting him regularly.

CNN Living: A killer in the family

“To have that kind of support from the man whose brother he killed, that is remarkable,” said Medina. “Not only does it lift that cloud of shame that he walks with, but more importantly it allows him to have a second chance with the blessings of the victim's brother.”

The day of his graduation, Colon surprised Rowe by coming to put on his robe. He also came to his parole hearing, where Rowe said this to the board deciding his fate:

“Anthony is my hero. I have two sons, and if my sons grow up to be half the man that Anthony Colon is, I will be an incredibly proud father. And I don’t know if I can sum it up or explain any better than that how I feel about Anthony Colon. He has changed my life.”

Colon believes religion has propelled him to forgive Rowe.

“For some reason I felt that he was dealing with all that he was dealing with. Like condemnation. Self-pity. Just like this hovering darkness that was around. I felt that, when people think that’s strange, but it’s just the part of the nature of a person that’s closely connected to God. There’s a connection with God that can allow you to see past what’s in front of you,” he said.

Rowe was released from prison this week after 20 years, a man who has not seen the world since he was barely grown up.

He showed up at one of his children’s elementary schools with cupcakes and gave her the surprise of her life. He saw the home where he will be living with his wife and three children for the first time. And he went to see Anthony Colon, who he will join at Exodus reaching out to young men at risk.

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“God has a purpose for me. God has a purpose for us,” said Rowe, sitting alongside Colon at the offices of Exodus. “Yes, us,” adds Colon smiling.

Meanwhile, Rowe is adjusting to life on the outside.

He is mystified by cell phones and the gentrification of the neighborhood where he fell into drugs and killed a man.

Exodus is helping him cope with routine life skills that seem overwhelming to him like having the power to make daily decisions over what to eat, when to talk, going outside.

Colon is helping him with that too, so he can see a life beyond prison and they can both put an end to 20 years of pain.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Faith • Spirituality

soundoff (734 Responses)
  1. jack james

    Seems like everyone is forgetting that there's a person who lost his life because of another person's stupidity.

    Forgiveness is nice, but it will never bring a dead person back to live because of another person's actions.

    April 13, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • yeppers

      Yeah, but they wanted a "feel-good" story.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • Just Me

      People like you cause me to praise God event he more for not being part of atheism or agnosticism.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • Brian

      I think you are right, yeppers.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • CJ

      Yes, but it's allowed Rowe and Colon to both move on, and to attempt to do a greater good together to prevent another young idiot who easily acquires a gun from shooting another innocent victim. They have experience of such matters from both sides (victim and perpetrator), and are in a unique position to really do some good for people. Hopefully they'll save numerous lives to make up for the one they lost/took.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:55 am |
    • maria

      Exactly ...maybe... but be in his graduation,laugh with him,visit him,be aound him,be his friend? that is toooom uch for me ! I think I will not do tat I don't know if I ever forgive this animal who took my brother's life if that is forgive it not matter to me I will not !

      April 22, 2013 at 5:51 am |
  2. Andy

    This story just made my day. The power of God in peoples lives is unbelievable, it is so amazing. Both of these men have been directly touched by God, and i will pray for both of them. God bless them.

    April 13, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • Just Me

      Me too, Andy, it has made my day to see the wonders of God in the lives of many people who are torn apart and before they know, here comes God to restore them.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • maria

      Oh really ...were was YOUR GOD when this murderer killed the guy? that was because your God wanted this guy muredered? you and your God blah blah make me sick!

      April 22, 2013 at 5:53 am |
  3. yeppers

    What are the chances that the mother was receiving some sort of public taxpayer welfare support to raise those children? Why did the story not mention that?

    April 13, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • alark

      Because the story is bigger than your bigotry.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • yeppers

      And why exactly am I am bigot? I am just going under the statistical assumption that a single mother of 3 would probably need some sort of assistance to raise her children since she obviously can't be receiving any child support from a convicted murderer who is in prison.... so tell me how that makes me a bigot?

      April 13, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • Lindalou

      That hit a note with me too. You're put away for life yet you're allowed to bring children into the world that you have no way of supporting. I know it happens on the outside all the time, but this man was confined, that should have never been allowed.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Just Me

      What the hell does that have to do with the story, dimwit?

      April 13, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Just Me

      What the does that have to do with the story, dimwit?

      April 13, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • yeppers

      "Just me", you better go say your 10 hail Mary's for that little outburst! I like how you immediately go to calling people names while sitting on your little religious throne! I was just making an observation on something I disagreed with – you don't have to get nasty about it.... oh, wait – you can just ask for forgiveness afterwards and all is good, right?

      April 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • maria

      The whole story made me sick ....the woman is breeding like a dog ,the guy get only 20 years for killing a innocent person , hellooooooo he got free college education,of course the Government pay welfare for all those kids ,the vicim brothers embrace him and became his buddy ...this world is getting mad mad mad ! this is a JOKE!

      April 22, 2013 at 5:58 am |
  4. daggerstab

    The personal state of hypocrisy is dependent on being able to realize that everyone is equally capable of all human levels of brutality, and then applying that knowledge to find the capability to forgive others just as you would to yourself and those whom you love most.

    April 13, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  5. Gilligan

    It's a simple choice, what would you rather do:
    FORGIVE AND FORGET – OR – HATE AND REMEMBER

    April 13, 2013 at 9:55 am |
    • maria

      HATE and REMEMBER and if possible if I have the chance tooh for tooth he will not be alive today if is my brother killer ! and will sleep serene and peaceful without any REMORSE! this guy is lucky he had this moron in his life because he is a MORON he forgot this animal cause pain to his mother too I wonder what his mother is saying!

      April 22, 2013 at 6:04 am |
    • John

      It’s the hardest thing to give away
      And the last thing on your mind today
      It always goes to those that don’t deserve

      It’s the opposite of how you feel
      When the pain they caused is just too real
      It takes everything you have just to say the word…

      It flies in the face of all your pride
      It moves away the mad inside
      It’s always anger’s own worst enemy
      Even when the jury and the judge
      Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
      It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness
      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Show me how to love the unlovable
      Show me how to reach the unreachable
      Help me now to do the impossible

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Help me now to do the impossible
      Forgiveness

      It’ll clear the bitterness away
      It can even set a prisoner free
      There is no end to what it’s power can do
      So, let it go and be amazed
      By what you see through eyes of grace
      The prisoner that it really frees is you

      May 6, 2013 at 1:58 am |
  6. skytag

    As an atheist I don't buy into any of the religious narratives, but I recognize they can motivate people to do good things they'd never do on their own.

    April 13, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Cait

      Very true, glad to see an atheist who doesn't just leave hateful and snarky comments regarding religion. Sometimes, that is exactly the point of following one~ to give you the strength that you might've not had, all through the idea of belief. It's pretty amazing, actually, the power of it~ no matter what you may or may not believe.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  7. Notevangelical

    Forgiveness does not make everything OK. It's not about telling the other person that what they did doesn't matter anymore. I forgive because it sets ME free. Forgiveness makes it possible for me to continue to live my life, to maintain my sanity. I heard it put this way: forgiveness is when I give up my right to hurt you because of what you did to me.

    April 13, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  8. Ghostriver Studios

    Reblogged this on Ghost River Studios Blog.

    April 13, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  9. martina

    mercy and forgivness and Love is the greatis gift of all.just as he died for our sin,he lifts us up and and gives us peace So that we can forgive one and other, and this is a wonderfull example how god frees our soul from burdens too hard to bare
    GOD BLESS YOU ALL

    April 13, 2013 at 9:48 am |
  10. Skeptic

    It's wonderful when empathy expands and forgiveness is possible. But to claim that these ideas originate in religion doesn't quite explain what's actually going on, in my opinion. In my own experience, atheists and theists alike show the capacity for empathy and forgiveness (perhaps the atheists a bit more, as they are generally more inclusive).
    Empathy and the desire for reconciliation is not a religious trait, it's a HUMAN trait. Some humans express empathy within the bounds of a religious doctrines, yes; others express empathy for different reasons, like a genuine concern for the well-being of others for its own sake.

    We should recognize that religion can foster forgiveness, just as it can foster division. But our capacity for cooperation and empathy doesn't come from religion, it comes from us.

    April 13, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • asdhj

      He should kill that mother f6kr instead of p155ing on his brothers grave. What a disgrace hangin around with the killer.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:47 am |
    • ryanendress

      Skeptic – I agree with you 100%!

      April 13, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Just Me

      Most people can forgive and not let go of the past. They can keep holding on to some resentment. People who embrace God can forgive and move one. The healing is 100% and doesn't hold on to any resentment.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Brian

      "People who embrace God can forgive and move one. The healing is 100% and doesn't hold on to any resentment."

      All you are is a proselytizer. Always having to claim all those good traits as created and owned by your religion. Tard.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  11. Bob

    I echo other opinions, how the heck can we allow people to father 3 children while in prison.

    April 13, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  12. vj

    Please hold off on the Billy Graham. He doesnt believe Jesus is the only way, truth and the life. He (and others like Rick Warren) believe you must turn to OTHER PEOPLE in certain situations. Heresy. Oh, see what the Bible says about true CHristians and how the world would view them..We would not have hundreds of millions of fans.

    April 13, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  13. J Robinson

    Vengeance, retribution, settling the score or whatever you call it is the most dangerous, and yet one of the strongest human impulses. Yet it traps the person driven to it and there is seldom any "closure", satisfaction or peace of mind after the vengeful act has been performed. Only forgiveness will truly settle the score, give us peace, set us free and lift us up. It was Christ's most important message to the world. This is a great story.

    April 13, 2013 at 9:37 am |
  14. Jeff

    He fathered 3 children while in prison? Anyone else have a problem with this?

    April 13, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • Mr. Malcolm

      Why is having children with his wife a problem?

      April 13, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • James

      Yeh, I do. I wonder who paid to raise these kids? No doubt tax payers like you and me. I suppose next week we'll read Colon is putting Rowe's kids through college. Isn't forgiveness wonderful! Stories like this make me want to vomit.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • joe

      Mr. Malcom you might be part of our problem if you can't understand this simple concept.

      April 13, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  15. Deana

    This is a beautiful story. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful spiritual tools we have to win the world for Christ. I can't think of a more difficult thing than to forgive the man that killed one's brother. How beautiful, and truly a God-thing. It's too bad the writer of the article boils it down to simple 'religion.' This type of forgiveness transcends religion.

    April 13, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  16. Jan

    Did I read that right, Rowe and his girlfriend had 3 children together while Rowe was in prison?

    April 13, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • Mr. Malcolm

      No, you read wrong. He fathered 3 kids with his 'wife' while in prison.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  17. clarity

    "Then one summer day, a chance encounter"

    " . .I’ve been praying I would see you again."

    hmmm...

    April 13, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • yeppers

      Kind of stupid isn't it? If he was "praying" he would see him again, it seems like it would just have been easier to go to the prison and say " Hey, can I see that dude that killed my brother" instead of just wishing it would happen.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:04 am |
  18. Forgiveness

    A Christian can forgive because God is a prime example of teaching us how to forgive.

    April 13, 2013 at 8:55 am |
    • Forgiveness

      Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness.
      Billy Graham

      Forgive and be forgiven.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • Christian forgiveness

      Most of your fellow Christians haven't a clue about forgiveness.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • Derek

      "A Christian can forgive because God is a prime example of teaching us how to forgive."

      Except for those gays!! Man do Christians - and God - *hate* those gays! Oh but everyone else, yeah they forgive everything and love everyone....EXCEPT THOSE DAMN GAYS!!

      April 13, 2013 at 9:40 am |
    • Forgiveness

      A Christian does NOT hate gays, we are tired of repeating this to you over and over again. Each Christian reaches out in love to all mankind equally. They cannot endorse a sinful lifestyle which does not preclude them from reaching out in love.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • Ed

      "A Christian does NOT hate gays,"

      One Christian from the next has a different opinion about anything.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:17 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    April 13, 2013 at 8:22 am |
    • Religion poisons everything

      Not really. Human kindness and understanding are stronger than wishful thinking.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • Christian forgiveness

      Giving kids 'religion' at an early age can be equated with child abuse.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • billy

      Christianity wasn't so great for the guy that got shot 13 times.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:35 am |
    • Derek

      "Atheism is not healthy for children"

      Oh? I'm an atheist, always have been. I'm a stable, fully functioning individual with a loving wife, a good job, and plenty of close, kindhearted friends in my life. Weird that I didn't pray once for any of that or give daily thanks and praise to an invisible being for giving anything to me, and yet there it is.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • Just Me

      IT SURE DOES, AND THIS ARTICLES HAS PROVEN IT!!!

      April 13, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Just Me

      billy – His brother wasn't a Christian, but Mr. Row was an atheists and now seems to be embracing God because Atheism did him no good.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Brian

      @Just Me- Why don't you prove some of these claims you are throwing out into the wind here. "Atheism did him no good"? Tard.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Imagine No Religion

      @Atheism is not...blah blah blah:

      So, have you ever threatened YOUR children with eternal dam nation? I haven't, but I'll bet you have!

      Prayer changes nothing.

      I challenge you to take the George Carlin Prayer Test. Pray to your imaginary god friend for a month, then pray to Joe Pesci for a month. You'll find the percentage of prayers answered by god, and those by Mr Pesci, will be about the same (50/50).

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RT6rL2UroE

      Don't waste energy praying. Instead, go down to your local animal shelter and adopt a pet that is on death row. Or, buy a homeless person a meal. Or, plant a tree amongst the concrete jungle. It is far more productive.

      -–
      "There ain't no jesus gonna come from the sky.
      Now that I found out, I know I can cry." – John Lennon

      April 13, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  20. xmatman

    To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.—Unknown

    April 13, 2013 at 7:33 am |
    • Damocles

      That works right up until the murderer murders again. Obviously this Unknown person never knew anyone who was a victim of a crime. Lucky him or her.

      April 13, 2013 at 7:40 am |
    • .

      The greatest crime is unbelief

      April 13, 2013 at 8:24 am |
    • ROO

      "The greatest crime is unbelief"

      – What an incredibly moronic thing to say. Tell that to family members of the heaven's gate cult so set in their "beliefs" that all 39 members committed suicide. The greatest crime is not to question or provide evidence to give justification for a belief or baseless claim. Belief is purely blind gullibility. To dismiss proof in favor of faith is one of the most illogical things one can do.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:31 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.