An inmate–let’s call him Charles–incarcerated at the Sheridan Correctional Center in Illinois writes with a question about whether he should issue a public apology for his offenses.
Charles writes:I have a subscription to my local newspaper, and I noticed that there are a great deal of crime reports and a complete absence of any letters in which an offender expresses any remorse. I took much from my community and I treated it as my own personal playground of insanity. In doing so, I paid no respect to the safety of my neighbors, friends, and loved ones. For a long time I’ve been debating whether or not it would be appropriate to write a letter to the newspaper explaining this. Then I got your book and I read it. I kinda feel like a public apology would be a responsible thing to do.
Charles asked if I thought writing such a letter was a good idea.
Here’s part of what I wrote back:I definitely think you should write that letter. Be as specific as possible about the many ways you offended. Acknowledge with great detail all the ways you victimized your neighbors, friends, and loved ones. Leave nothing out. Acknowledge your remorse, name some ways you can offer restitution and make it clear that by your actions going forward your goal is regain a measure of the respect that you lost, and promise not to offend again. Be careful to avoid even a hint of explanation. This is about the victims, not about you. An effective apology means giving up the right to have the last word. And now that you’ve written that letter, I want you to address it, put in an envelope, and lick the flap tight so the apology can’t get out. Now here’s the most important part: put it away for at least a week. Definitely do not mail it! At the end of the week, take out the letter and re-read it from the point of view of the victims you offended. Maybe that’s all you need to do. Just having written the apology has lasting value. Putting the apology on paper may just bring you the extra determination to live a righteous life when you are released. If after a week you still think the community would benefit from the publication of your apology, then do this: show it to someone you trust. If he or she agrees that the letter has value and will not unduly jeopardize you, then by all means, mail it. Just be prepared for anything. Your apology may well be accepted. It may be scorned. Any number of outcomes may flow. That’s why apology is so hard. When you really apologize, you give up control. Authentic apologies are never cost-free. They are just less costly than the alternatives of denial, deception, and rationalization. Public apologies can be very healing to a community trying to heal. I just don’t want you to think a public apology is a substitute for the more difficult private apology. Before you put energy into the public apology, I ask you to be just as thoughtful about whether or not it is appropriate to issue private apologies to the individuals that you victimized. I understand there are real constraints on an inmate’s ability to do so. Most courts specifically require offenders not to contact their victims. But lawyers can serve as intermediaries, even though, in practice, lawyers will generally advise you against apologizing. That’s their job and sometimes you should listen to them. So with all this said, good luck. Tell you what.
Feel free to write that public apology and send me the draft. I’ll be glad to read it and give you my impressions. With your permission, I’ll reproduce it here and invite my readers to weigh in.
Stay tuned. If Charles takes up my offer, I’ll post what he prepares and you can judge.