This story really hits home to me and confirms why I am strongly opposed to the death penalty. As a Christian, if you believe in forgiveness, it is hard for me to understand how you can take a life when that potential exists. Also, it reconfirms that real need in terms of dealing with reconciliation between victims and offenders.
In the past five years Patty O’Reilly of Sonoma has gone from a wife to widow, from a private person into a familiar face at San Quentin prison.
On a journey that began with heartbreak and fueled by deep religious faith, the mother of two young daughters finds herself these days focusing on hope.
She admits, she started off hating the man who killed “my Danny.”
“But I was reminded by a good friend that everyone can change. I remembered that as a Christian I am called to forgive as I am forgiven,” she said.
No one is more amazed than she to find herself devoted to the last thing she ever considered doing — volunteering as a surrogate victim in prison restorative justice programs.
“I remember thinking, you’re crazy,” said her daughter Erin O’Reilly, 17, now living in Washington, D.C., where she studies at the Washington School of Ballet.
“I thought, ‘I’m living with insane people,’” she said Erin O’Reilly of her first reaction. Today, she is proud of her mother. “She’s getting a lot out of it and she’s doing something really positive for people in prison. They need help.”
Patty O’Reilly has participated in two pilot programs, the Victim-Offender Dialogue Program through the State of California and Victim-Offender Education Group at San Quentin State Prison. It was through such programs, which facilitate dialogue between victims and inmates, that O’Reilly eventually traveled to Folsom Prison to meet with and forgive Mike Albertson, 51, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence for killing Danny O’Reilly.
“The fact is that everybody that is in jail — the so called bad people — they’re coming out,” said B. Sullivan of the Restorative Justice and Detention Ministries in the Diocese of Santa Rosa. “Don’t you want people going in and getting rehabilitation? They’ll be back.”
In 2007, Patty O’Reilly was given a Champion of Courage Award by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office for her work in restorative justice.
In the five years since the death of her husband, O’Reilly and her daughters have forgiven. Their wish for the man responsible for that death is that he one day attains his own peace.