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. JJbm


    April 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
  2. Turd Ferguson

    Lots of keyboard warriors on the CNN forums tonight.

    April 13, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
  3. Jasper

    I have no interest in forgiveness. I'd rather dance.

    April 13, 2013 at 10:55 pm |
  4. Jasper

    Two questions I didn't see answered in this soppy piece: what happened to the OTHER two men (or were they boys?) who shot his brother?

    And...why did they shoot him?

    April 13, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
  5. jesus christ

    I do not think that murder is a forgiveable offence.

    I am an atheist.


    April 13, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
  6. 1

    the brother i commend him, even though i don't understand it. the killer, just makes me mad that he is fortunate enough to be forgiven. this is above what a lot of people would do or feel, and definitely above what i would feel.

    April 13, 2013 at 10:46 pm |
  7. Jana

    Forgiveness is for cowards and wimps. Much better to accept the sadness/loss/anger and just ride with it. Bad stuff happens in the world. Forgiveness does nothing for the one who is gone or for the one who shot him; forgiveness is a crutch and a copout for the victim (the brother). How sad that it takes mythology/delusion to find practical solutions for living. You don't befriend your brother's killer, you idiot! Befriend someone worthy! Befriend DOZENS of worthy people! Don't single out this fellow, he is just one guy, and you choose him because he murdered your sibling? Why not "forgive" and "befriend" someone who killed someone ELSE's sibling or child or father or mother or daughter, eh? Murder is murder! Find a serial killer and take him to dinner! Send bibles to rapists! How ridiculous. It was lunacy that gave you this silly idea. The world is imperfect, and trauma/tragedy/horror is all around. Pain is life, life is pain. Don't find a way to "paper over" it. Look it right in the eye and be part of it.

    If the murderer had been executed, you wouldn't have had to see him again. Instead, he created offspring through conjugal visits. How charming. Nice lesson for his children, and the the relatives of the victim.

    I prefer revenge. Well, and housekeeping. Capital punishment is housekeeping. Sayonara, brotha.

    April 13, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • Street Sense

      Forgiving brings you peace, you must be a tortured individual. Do you still want revenge for the kid who beat you up in 6th grade? In addition, Jesus wants you to forgive, we are all sinners. How do you expect him to forgive your sins if you cannot forgive the sins of others?

      However, I do find it interesting that he has befriended this guy, I don't think I could it. But who are we to judge?

      April 13, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
    • Doug

      Jana, the only thing sad is you.

      April 14, 2013 at 12:00 am |
  8. divinem


    April 13, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • Andrew

      Why did they omit the name of Jesus Christ so much in this article?

      April 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • tony

      Because forgiveness has noting to do with religion. It pre-dates it by about 200,000 years.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  9. stressjudo

    First, it's not a success story yet. Apparently this guy was just released. Let's hope he doesn't kill someone else.
    Second, I'm saving like a m-f-er so my kids can go to college and a murderer gets a free master's degree?
    Something is serioulsy wrong with this picture.

    April 13, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • nickel4thoughts

      Taxpayer dollars for sure.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
  10. gb333

    I'm not Jesus, you gun down my brother, and I will never forgive you.

    If justice doesn't find, then I will. And I am not a tough guy. But some things just have to be.

    April 13, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • Pastor_P

      Getting your revenge won't make you feel any better. But forgiving give you peace. It is not easy however.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
  11. mslesley

    Reblogged this on Imperfectly Perfect and commented:
    This is an awesome example of what happens, when we allow the Divine to enter into our disorganized and disenfranchised life. I love lessons of love and hope like this. This is a true example of the Apostle Paul's writing, "My grace is sufficient and my strength is perfected in your weakness." It is a beautiful illustration of learning to live in the grace wherein we stand!

    April 13, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • tony

      Yet another "religion steals credit for normal good human behavior and celebrations" – like Christmas and its predecessor Yule.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Matt

      Tony, you are missing the point. Religion didn't steal credit, it states clearly in the article that without his faith he would not have been able to forgive. Other posters that are not religious have pretty clearly stated that they could not or would not forgive the man. At least be intellectually honest and admit that somebody of deep faith can forgive when others are not able to.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
  12. Drew Wales

    Would you like to know what his brother would think or say about this?....Take Your Time, Ease Up on Him, And Kill Him Back Very Well Bro..!!

    April 13, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  13. hz

    this is a stupid story, how can you "befriends" of your own brother's killer? how can you call him FRIEND? forgive is one thing (and I don't believe you can forgive somebody who killed your beloved), befriend is totally different.

    April 13, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
    • John

      Has anyone killed a beloved one of yours? Then you won't understand. Obviously the guy forgave him, and they have a close relationship. I don't know if they are truly friends or not, but the guy stuck up for his brothers killer in his parole hearing, so obviously that means something.

      April 13, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • Mary

      I totally agree with you. How on earth is possible to befriend brother's killer; it is some sort of self deception and playing a hero! It is possible avoiding revenge, but being a friend is another story.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
    • Michael J.

      And you are a stupid human being for saying such incredulous things.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
    • Chris

      That is only something Jesus can explain. This is EXACTLY what he called us as Christians to do on this earth. Perhaps you should seek him for the answer.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • tony

      But your god kills us all eventually, and a heck of a lot of innocents far too soon. Shows religion is truly nonsense.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
  14. str8whtguy

    Good luck to both of you with an incredibly difficult journey. Religion aside, the power of forgiveness can be tremendous for everyone involved. So many of the world's problems are caused by resentment over past wrongs. Great example of how even bitter enemies can help each other become better people.

    April 13, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
    • Sheila

      People do change when they allow God to take control. I think this is a beautiful story too. I do not know how I would react but I would pray to have the courage that this man had to find inside himself along with faith and love for others. Forgiveness is a great healing.

      April 13, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • tony

      And a heck of a lot of people are just as good without needing the religion crutch. But the religious always ignore that.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
    • str8whtguy

      Sheila, Tony, you're both right. My parents left the Catholic church shortly after I was born in 1970, due to what they perceived as hyprocrisy in the church. However, they instilled a strong SECULAR sense of moral values in me, and still do. My retired mother still believes that the "golden rule" (do unto others as you'd have them do unto you) trumps all else.

      Whether it's sincere religious faith or a strong secular upbringing that enables you to respect others and focus on your similarities rather than your differences, both have done their jobs.

      April 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  15. Really

    Wonder what his deceased brother would think of this?

    April 13, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • OneDurBread

      I'm sure his brother is pleased.

      April 13, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
  16. Ice

    This is an excellent story. This is what I call Christ-like mentality.

    April 13, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Sheila

      Very true 🙂

      April 13, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
  17. Geesh

    I think some people confuse forgiving, with giving that person license to commit the act again, not so. Ibthinknyou can forgive move on but create the boundary to not let them repeat the action

    April 13, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  18. Saraswati

    Another version of the same theme 2 months ago:


    April 13, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
  19. Wendy Jane

    So sick of being told I have to forgive someone who has hurt me before I'm able to move on. I don't have to forgive them; I dealt with it and put it behind me when I was ready. I don't think it's healthy to try to get revenge but I don't forgive someone who knowingly and willingly did something to hurt or betray me.

    April 13, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • Bostontola

      You're right, no one should tell you you have to. Most people wouldn't. Do you have an issue with people suggesting you forgive?

      April 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • Wendy Jane

      Suggesting? No. Being told I'm in denial and will not truly be healed unless I forgive? Yes.

      April 13, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Geesh

      Forgiving does not deny the action, rather I think it puts that person on notice. And no does not concede they can do it again.

      April 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • Bostontola

      You may be surprised how your act of forgiveness can sometimes make powerful changes in the perpetrator. That change will then make powerful changes in you. Everyone benefits greatly, the definition of a win-win. I'm not saying it always works, but the times it does, pays for many that don't. It's up to you how many chances you want to give (including zero), but when it works the satisfaction is very valuable.

      April 13, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Jez

      I'm with you, Wendy.

      April 13, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
    • OneDurBread

      I agree Wendy but I'm happy for these two. Maybe their example will stop something horrible from happening to someone else.

      April 13, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
    • veggiedude

      Then you must be sick of what Jesus stood for. I don't think Jesus was a messiah – I'm an atheist. But I like his message.

      April 13, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • Jason

      Either you misunderstand the meaning of forgiveness or I do. I thought it was not allowing the person / action to cause you grief and stress any longer. If you've put something behind you and are done with it bothering you, then you've forgiven.

      April 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
    • Turd Ferguson

      No one cares what you do. If you want to harbor hate for the rest of your life, knock yourself out.

      April 13, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
    • The real Tom

      What makes you think that forgiveness is something one can force oneself to do? And if one CAN force oneself to 'forgive', what will that accomplish?

      April 13, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
  20. JM

    Now that is a beautiful story. If one grows up secure, it is difficult to put oneself into the shoes of kids who grow up in a troubled neighborhood. They have grown up into fine educated and responsible men. I, for one, can learn from their lesson of forgiveness and reconciliation.

    God bless them both.

    April 13, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Sheila

      Me too JM, I grew up in a troubled neighborhood and seen a lot of vengeance. I was involved in my share of making things worse. It is really hard to pull yourself out of that mentality when you are stuck right in the middle of it. I have been away from it for a really long time now and cannot imagine being back there but both of these men have grown from this and I pray that God blesses them both. I believe that the forgiveness that was offered by the brother will most likely heal the other man and change him to a better person. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Many times we point the finger out of hurt and don't take the time to realize that in many ways we are just as wretched. I pray for a better life for them both.

      April 13, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • jesus christ


      Are you as wretched as a murderer? Think, chick, think!!!!

      April 13, 2013 at 10:53 pm |
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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.