My best friend is a murderer: finding love and forgiveness after an unthinkable crime

By: Jane M

When I was 15 years old growing up near Shreveport, Louisiana I met a charming boy from the country named Michael. He was my boyfriend’s friend first, but I got to know Michael one day when we all drove from their end of the sticks to mine. I’ll never forget the first time I heard his laugh. I claimed him almost immediately.

Best friends for life
There were many silly misadventures. We were, after all, just kids. I vividly remember washing our hair during a heavy rainstorm in my Mom’s driveway and how it promptly stopped raining right in the middle, leaving us laughing harder than hyenas. That’s back when poorly thought out plans had no more consequence than filling our mouths with soapy water. Bad ideas rolled off us like rain, into the puddle of a good story.

Michael treated me like a sister, and his little brother became mine. His mom called me her “redheaded adopted stepchild” and welcomed me as part of her family. My mother loved him, and that wasn’t an easy gain. We were the blood you earn. Looking out for each other always, I called him my “Tigger”, and he called me his “Pooh.” So it went without saying if one of us met someone we liked the other would need to give a stamp of approval before it could be considered serious.

Michael’s family was poor, and he worked to help his mom and stepdad from a young age. His biological father was in prison for double manslaughter. Twenty years before, he was a married man having an affair with Michael’s mother. When his wife found out, he shot her and her mother, then he tried to kill himself. Michael’s mom came to see him in the hospital and revealed she was pregnant. That baby was Michael. Born into blood.

When we were teenagers, Michael was the responsible one of our group. He eased his family’s burden by going out on his own at just 16 years old. Everyone could see this ambitious boy had plans to better himself; he had a job; he had serious relationships; he had his own home.  I learned a lot about the things that are expected of adults from him.

He was my best friend. Then he was gone.

Life in prison
Michael was involved with a murder at 20. Trying to help with his family’s financial problems, he and an accomplice stole a car from a car lot with the intention to rob a bank almost 1,000 miles away. They had the car lot dealer with them and planned to drop him off in a remote location. Everything went wrong, so wrong that a wonderful family man died by the side of the road, and it should never have happened.

Michael’s accomplice got life without parole. Michael’s biological father was brought by the defence team from prison to court, to plead for his son’s life. Instead, he told the jury that prison is no life for a young man and they should give Michael the death penalty. The jury obliged.

Michael will spend the rest of his life at Angola Penitentiary, a former plantation that is now one of America's most notorious prisons. It's the same prison that my great grandfather called home after he shot my great grandmother in front of her children because she wanted a divorce. It's sad how violence and murder are deeply embedded in both our family histories.

I’ve visited Michael there once a year since, and the ease between us has been replaced by glass. I’ve now known him longer inside prison than outside. The shackles on his arms and legs are a reminder of the hurt he brought and how he is seen now. As a criminal, a murderer. Even after all this time, I am still unable to understand it all, but I do know that I love him.

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People make mistakes. Big mistakes. Michael is remorseful and I know he wishes he had made a different decision that night he decided to make the worst mistake of his life. He doesn't ever stop reeling from his choice.

Learning to forgive the unforgivable
I feel almost guilty for still loving him so much after he committed a horrendous crime. I have been judged for standing behind him. And sometimes I have kept his place in my heart a secret rather than face people who simply can’t abide it. This is the South where an “an eye for an eye” is something people still believe. “What if it happened to you?” they say. “What if it was your loved one murdered?” Unfortunately, I have lost a family member to murder.

Three years ago, my stepfather killed my mother and himself in a murder/suicide. He shot them in their home after 13 years of marriage. I lost not only my precious mother but my best friend, confidant and grandmother to my daughter. The confusing part? I forgave him, love him and miss him just as much as I miss my mom. My feelings of love and loyalty have allowed me to forgive another unthinkable crime.

I’ve seen both sides of murder. It’s true that when it’s someone you love who has done the killing, your moral standings can shift. Whether it’s Michael or my stepfather, do I see them as evil and drop them from my life, or do I do what my heart tells me and continue loving the person I knew before society branded him a monster?

I never judged them. They were all the love I knew. Today, I have Jesus and meds which help some.

Michael is hurt that I support capital punishment. I'm a liberal, but a Louisiana liberal is different than most. Here you are taught that if you commit a crime, you will most definitely do the time. I believe that if you take a life on purpose, you must give your own. Although I'd like to see Michael off death row, I believe that he is there justly and as a result of his actions.

Finding love inside prison
When women started writing to Michael on death row, I didn’t trust them. Why would they want to love someone who isn’t getting out of prison until the day of his execution?

I met Michael’s girlfriend during an annual visit. I was skeptical, and then I was very impressed, and then I was confused. She is beautiful, smart and as charming as Michael himself.

But I wondered what this chick is doing with a death row inmate? It’s obvious he is very serious, but I withheld my stamp of approval because I felt that it would end badly. Either she would break his heart, leaving him without the hope he needed to survive in prison, or he would be executed, and she would spend her life grieving. Neither ending felt right for my Tigger. Michael stopped talking to me about her, and we grew further apart.

I didn’t understand that even though you are in prison for life, you remain a person in need of love. Then someone sent me a link to the trailer for the documentary Met While Incarcerated, where my best friend Michael and his girlfriend Angela were telling their story. For the first time in 20 years, I realized what love can do to save a person condemned to isolation between four walls. I saw a love that was strong and real. I realized at that moment that this documentary, a story I already knew, was going to change my relationship with him.

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When I finally allowed her in, Angela became a gift to us all. I got my best friend back, in a way I hadn’t known since he went to prison. I saw Michael light up when she walked in the room, and he got down on one knee to propose to her. So I gave them my stamp of approval and the gift of my lost parents’ wedding rings. The fact that he gets to have this experience means the world to me.
 
I will never see him leave out of the front gates of the prison, but I will never stop loving, supporting and visiting him. Michael Andrew Taylor, inmate  #429618 is still our funny boy, our sweet kid and I will no longer let the past control the thoughts of my present or future.

Why were the people closest to me taken by murder? I like to think that God kept me strong and kept my head above water during the hard times. They only give the hardest tasks to the strongest soldiers, right? I’ll take that.

Crime, punishment and love. Three of the hardest words to understand in the English language.

Crime happens in an instant, punishment is swift, but love is forever.

Jane M (a pseudonym) is a teacher and works with domestic abuse survivors in the state of Louisiana. She’s also a doting mom, wife and volunteers for the PTA.

Watch Met While Incarcerated.

 

 

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