DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Friday means it is time again for StoryCorps. This week, there has been a lot of discussion about the need to reduce the size of the nation's prison population, the largest in the world. It's one of those rare issues that has support from both Democrats and Republicans. This week, President Obama called for criminal justice reforms that would help former inmates turn their lives around. And we're going to hear now from someone who did just that in a StoryCorps conversation we first aired in 2011. As a teenager, Oshea Israel got into a fight, and he killed another young man. Oshea is now 38 years old, and he's finished serving his prison sentence for murder. He came to StoryCorps with Mary Johnson, the mother of the young man he killed.
MARY JOHNSON: You and I met at Stillwater prison. I wanted to know if you were in the same mindset of what I remember from court, where I wanted to go over and hurt you. But you were not that 16-year-old. You were a grown man. I shared with you about my son.
OSHEA ISRAEL: And he became human to me, you know? When I met you, it was like, OK, this guy is real. And then, when it was time to go, you broke down and started shedding tears. And the initial thing to do was try to hold you up as best I can, just hug you like I would my own mother.
JOHNSON: After you left the room, I began to say it. I just hugged the man that murdered my son. And I instantly knew that all that anger and animosity, all the stuff I had in my heart for 12 years for you, I knew it was over, that I had totally forgiven you.
ISRAEL: As far as receiving forgiveness from you, sometimes I still don't know how to take it because I still haven't totally forgiven myself yet. It's something that I'm learning from you.
JOHNSON: Our relationship is beyond belief. We live next door to one another.
ISRAEL: Yeah, so you can see what I'm doing. You know firsthand. We actually bump into each other all the time, leaving in and out of the house. And our conversations, they come from, boy, how come you ain't called over here to check on me in a couple of days (laughter)? You ain't even asked me if I need my garbage to go out. I find those things funny because this is a relationship with a mother for real.
JOHNSON: Well, my natural son is no longer here. I didn't see him graduate. Now you're going to college. I'll have the opportunity to see you graduate. I didn't see him get married. Hopefully, one day, I'll be able to experience that with you.
ISRAEL: Just to hear you say those things and be in my life in the manner that which you are is my motivation. It motivates me to make sure that I stay on the right path. You still believe in me. And the fact that you can do it despite how much pain I caused you, it's amazing.
JOHNSON: I know it's not an easy thing, you know, to be able to share our story together. So I admire that you can do this.
ISRAEL: I love you, lady.
JOHNSON: I love you, too, son.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: That was Mary Johnson with Oshea Israel at StoryCorps in Minneapolis. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. The StoryCorps podcast is on iTunes and also at npr.org.
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