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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. Beth

    This is exactly what we are going to want God to do when we die. If we can't do it for each other, then why should we expect Him to do it for us? A sin is a sin.

    April 15, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
    • Rodrigo El Obviouso Del Los Santos Y Sanitarios

      Sin exists as much as your favorite fairy tale exists, sir.

      April 15, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

      Thats great.....when did God tell you this?

      April 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  2. Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

    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.
    .
    He must be selfish and the wife quite dumb..to bring 3 kids in the world knowing the father cannot be a good and PRESENT father. He is in prison because he wasnt the sharpest in the tool shed. She is sleeping with inmates because of low self esteem and who knows what other mental issues. It should be interesting to see how his 3 kids turn out...I am guessing they wont fall too far from the tree having 2 very stupid and selfish parents. The chain will not be broken.

    April 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Beth

      A present father is a father who chooses to be present. There are fathers who are married to their childrens' mothers and live with them who are never around because of work or just because they have better things to do. You don't know how much time he spends with his children or what the quality of that time is. It's easy to pass judgement when you're ignorant of the situation; that isn't exactly the epitome of mental stability.

      April 15, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

      We shall assume Beth thatin your mind he is a role model and more women need to look into prison inmates to be fathers of their children. You also feel that as responsible adult deciding to have children that being locked up behind bars for 20 years should have no bearing?

      April 15, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

      Beth it comes down to common sense, not judgement

      April 15, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • peridot2

      Judgmentalism is another form of mental maladjustment. Check your mirror for your own problems. You should deal with them.

      April 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
  3. Rodrigo El Obviouso Del Los Santos Y Sanitarios

    The relationship isn't exactly, professional. This has some overtones. Just read the story with "YMCA" playing in the background.

    April 15, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  4. jack

    I agree, there is something wrong with this.....it is essentially saying to me that he agrees his brother's life is forfeit and not worth holding up as a victim of violence. Clean his own soul how he must, but if I were him, instead of befriending the man who callously murdered my own, I would instead donate my time to a Boystown or Big Brothers/Big Sisters and become a mentor for a youth who might grow up to also perpetrate murder. So this man was duped by the fast talking BS of a criminal hood in prison who himself needed to feel exonerated of his violence and inhumane actions.

    April 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Wow, how terrible you are to believe people in the world can't change. Without pain and suffering there is no compassion...

      April 15, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Gandolph The Lundren

      Why should there be pain and suffering? Do you want people to experience pain and suffering, Stephanie? So that you might have happy good feelings of joy when you do something nice for someone once every eight or nine years?

      April 15, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  5. Ivan

    I happen to know Michael Rowe and was a pretty good kid. We were both in class together in elementary school. He was a tremendous athlete as was his younger brother. Our crew was Puerto Rican and his was black, but ask them if his crew saw color? if we saw color? Never, we all chilled together as youngsters and played football against other crews in East Harlem. He was and still is our friend even though he went down a different path in his late teens and early twenties. He seemed to struggle with that as he still would find time to sit and shoot the breeze with us. Laugh and crack jokes and talk about females. When he went away, we always wondered about Mike, because we knew Mike the football player, we knew mike the friend. God bless him and his family and god bless Anthony for his forgiveness, it shows a lot of strength and courage to do that. I dont know if i could forgive like that, but in this case anthony is truely an amazing person.

    April 15, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • Gandolph The Lundren

      Mike Rowe is perhaps the single most recognized voice on the Discovery channel, and rightfully so. He has a fantastic voice and all around great personality.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qU-b6AvxA-0

      April 15, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
    • Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

      God bless him and his family and god bless Anthony for his forgiveness, it shows a lot of strength and courage to do that. I dont know if i could forgive like that, but in this case anthony is truely an amazing person.
      .
      God bless him for being selfish in bringing 3 kids into the world when he is not around. Yeah takes a lot of courage to sit back in a cell and have your meals paid for and sit there and study. Lets see what he does after he does his time in the REAL WORLD. Lets see how his 3 kids turned out in 20 years. He is in jail because he isnt to smart and he continued to compound it with having 3 kids while locked up. Yeah he wins father of the year award!

      April 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
  6. patw

    Anyone that murders another person should be put death, end of story. This is another step by Obama and his liberal drones to their goal of destroying America.

    April 15, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I do not have an absolute objection to the death penalty. Throughout most of human history societies have had to resort to either a death penalty or exile as prisons have only recently been a sustainable option. The problem now, however, is that it actually costs more to put someone to death than it does to keep them in prison. The alternative to appeals and thorough investigation is a level of risk of error that, with what we know now, we as a society aren't willing to take.

      April 15, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
    • Damocles

      How much is a bullet nowadays? Buck fifty?

      April 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
    • Eric

      If you take the time to read the full article before slandering Obama and "his liberal drones", you might notice that this man's conviction and sentencing took place at least 20 years ago...just a few years before Obama was elected. Fox News might be more your speed than CNN.

      April 15, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • yayaya

      You are seriously disturbed

      April 15, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  7. Fred Evil

    One more piece of evidence of the failure of religion.
    Forgive the guy who killed your brother? Not a chance!
    But letting anger about it eat you up inside is no good either. But forgiving? Not really, no way.

    April 15, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
    • dumbasfock

      Thats evidence of the success of religion. How can you possibly consider this story to be an example of failure of anything but hatred and strife?

      April 15, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • chelle

      I am an athiest but the only way to let go of the anger is to forgive. I am sure that Anthony realizes that one of the reasons he did not become a Michael Rowe is because he had his brother to look up to. Perhaps he can see that the difference between him and Michael is the positive influence of his beloved brother.

      April 15, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  8. Ms. B

    Mark, this is a website not a newspaper, there is no 'FRONT PAGE", this was under a link for CNN Belief Blog.

    April 15, 2013 at 11:48 am |
  9. MikeMazzla

    Interesting story.. and I think overall a nice one. I don't think I could do it but I think there is a place where time starts to change you, and rather than keep living with hate and anger, acceptance and forgiveness in a way releases you also. And I am an athiest but if religion got him to that position it is all good.

    The guy who killed his brother was obviously young at the time and at least on the surface seems like he has turned his life around. I dont know why a person would have three kids while in prison.. I think that is a bit nutty for him and the mother...time will tell. But the good thing is that the brother has peace....that means a lot.

    April 15, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  10. guest

    This is an in creditable story, but not unique. A story very similar to it was of a mother of a young man who was shot and killed in a convenience store robbery. The mother of the killed man determined that she would not be revengeful; instead she befriended the killer, visiting the killer while he was in prison and making friends with him. When the killer was released from prison she secured an apartment for him right next to where she lived and helped him get a job. The story continues that he went to college and became a minister. What non-Christians seem to fail to understand is the love of God in the heart of a true Christian. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should be saved. This was the prayer of this Christian mother of the young Christian man who was killed. She now says:” I will have two sons who will be in the Earth made new, I did not lose a son, I gained one.”

    April 15, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  11. Meg

    I wish Mr. Rowe luck. God bless Mr. Colon and his brother. It's hard to know what to think except I can't help but feel that this is the way God wants us to behave – to forgive, to redeem. Someday we'll understand everything. Now we can just muddle through and do our best.

    April 15, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

      When did God tell you this? I am as suming you talked directly to him to make this claim.

      April 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  12. Bill e

    Setting him up for the kill....

    April 15, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • mike

      That was funny....

      April 15, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • yep

      Well we were all thinking it, glad you had the nerve to say it. Only a matter of time I suspect.

      April 15, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  13. johnnybarton2012

    I am amazed by the amount of hate on this feedback. It's strange; we all want justice and punishment for others but mercy and grace for ourselves. The actions of Rowe as a young man cannot be undone. However Colon has decided that that after time, he cannot let the actions of others control who he is. He has found peace in forgiveness. He has let go of that rage that consumed him. Sure he can be bitter and cynical like most. But because he has found peace, the trolls on this tread want to hate on him! If anything, it reflects what kind of society we have become (or in fact always have been). It takes something beyond being human to forgive on a level like that. I cannot say for certain that I would feel the same way if I were in his shoes and walked his walk. But to think that people under the cloak of a username could come on here and rant and hate on someone who has decided to be better than that is remarkable.

    April 15, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      You claim he has decided to "be better" than that.....I think he is just different, not better

      April 15, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

      Yeah he wins FATHER OF THE YEAR award for being selfish and bringing 3 kids in the world with him behind bars. HE IS THE MAN!!!!!!!!!!!

      April 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  14. Mark

    What makes this story newsworthy enough to be on the front page of CNN's main page?

    April 15, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Jahoobie

      Perhaps it's newsworthy becuase it flies in the face of how most people react? Try and open your heart, and not be so bitter. This is a feel good story, and one we all should read.

      April 15, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • Carol

      Because it's so darn rare.

      April 15, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  15. hogarth

    Another reason why religion is stupid.

    April 15, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • Jahoobie

      Why? Because it helped someone to forgive, let go of anger and hate, and become an even more productive member of society?

      April 15, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  16. ToHekWithDat

    colon is a fool. And the justice system is totally screwed up. rowe is a murdering piece of trash that is not only walking the streets now, but was allowed to father kids and earn a degree while incarcerated. Hell, he had it better than most law-abiding citizens. As for Colon, he should stick a loaded gun in Rowe's mouth , pull the trigger, and call it even.

    April 15, 2013 at 9:45 am |
  17. Saraswati

    Does anyone know who's paying to raise the children this man fathered while in prison?

    April 15, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • patw

      WE, THE PEOPLE. Some alleged citizens of America feel they deserve every free thing they get.

      April 15, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  18. Johnny

    What a pud, Eye for an Eye is the way to go

    April 15, 2013 at 9:09 am |
    • Chris R

      Eye for an eye is part of the Old Testament but how do you square that with Jesus saying that we should turn the other cheek, to forgive others, to love each other as we would love ourselves, and his act of forgiving the people who crucified him? Look, I'm guessing you probably aren't a christian – that's fine and I don't think it's a big deal one way or the other – but what this guy did is perfectly in line with his faith. It's an embodiment of what Christians are supposed to be doing instead of worrying about who is sleeping with whom.

      April 15, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
  19. Jeff

    Very nice story but.. I would love there to be follow-up stories or check-ups in 3, 6,12, 24 months. Just to see if the relationship is still in tact, to see if Mr Rowe is still on the better path in his life etc etc... Otherwise it's a very nice story..

    April 15, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • ..

      Agreed.

      April 15, 2013 at 9:15 am |
  20. Lexi

    I don't think I would ever be able to forgive and embrace someone who killed someone I loved. At least not like that.

    April 15, 2013 at 8:57 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.