Bullying, murder victims offer forgiveness in GMC’s “I Forgive You”

I forgive you. Those are three extremely powerful words and the premise GMC network (the “uplifting entertainment” net) developed their newest project around. In the documentary pilot I Forgive You, premiering Sunday, Nov. 18 at 9pm ET (repeating 10pm ET, 11pm ET), viewers will witness some very remarkable and inspirational — and true — stories of forgiveness that show the best in human nature.

“In none of these stories did people come forward and beg for forgiveness,” said executive producer Arnold Shapiro, the Oscar and Emmy award-winning producer for Scared Straight! “In all of these stories, the forgiveness was voluntarily offered to someone who hurt that person or harmed that person in a severe way. That’s unique. Most of us don’t go around just forgiving somebody voluntarily. If someone asks to be forgiven and you are a compassionate person and can get past the hurt, you do it. But to voluntarily do it, that was a unique perspective.”

Lynda Frederick was bullied in junior and high school, she forgives her classmates in I Forgive You on GMCLynda Frederick — A Victim  of Bullying
It’s also rare that after I screen a program I make it mandatory family viewing for my preteen and teen children to watch; however, the heartbreaking story involving the bullying of a young girl and the 25-year after effects of it was something all students need to see. The program begins with the story of Lynda Frederick, a 42-year-old mother of three who was the target of abusive bullying throughout her junior high and high-school years. While attending Orange Glen High School in Escondido, Calif., Lynda was tripped, kicked, teased and spit on relentlessly. Her story actually went viral and was the focus of many news stories when she posted a gut-wrenching poem  on her high-school class’ 25-year-reunion page.

An excerpt from the poem reads: “That little girl who came to school with the clothes she wore the day before, instead of asking why… you picked on her. The little girl who had bruises and was dirty, instead of asking why… you picked on her. The little girl who was always crying, instead of asking why… you picked on her.”

With the help of family therapist and host of I Forgive You Angie Richey, Lynda returns to Orange Glen High School where she courageously confronts her former classmates while cameras are rolling. Though the entire class was invited to meet with Lynda, only two former classmates agree to be filmed.

“It was impossible to get others,” Shapiro says. “We really tried. A lot of people just said in essence that they were ashamed of what they did and would rather not go on national TV and have their kids and family know. Instead, they said, ‘I’ll make my amends with Lynda when I see her at the reunion.’ But Shawn and Sabrina — well, Sabrina wasn’t a bully; she just did not do anything. They had more courage. … That moment is real. When Lynda walks into the classroom, she hadn’t seen them in 25 years. That was a real moment.”

It was an emotional, educational and inspirational moment, as well. Through conversation and understanding, Lynda is able to offer forgiveness, ultimately freeing herself: “You can’t fix yesterday, so let’s fix today.”

Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel in "I Forgive You" on GMCMary Johnson — Able To Forgive the Man Who Murdered Her Son
One of the most unbelievable segments of the special is the story of Mary Johnson, a Minneapolis mother whose son died after being shot multiple times by 16-year-old Oshea Isreal in 1993. After Oshea was sentenced to 25 years in prison, Mary turned to God for strength. Almost 11 years into Oseha’s sentence, Mary asks to meets face-to-face with Oshea, where she ultimately tells him she forgives him. Her path to how she got to that point of forgiveness, and where they both are today (they are next door neighbors!) is profiled.

The Miller Family — Victims Of Their Son’s Ponzi Scheme
All of the stories are diverse and look at forgiveness in unique ways. A Lacrosse, Wis., family, Jerry and Sandra Miller, were victims of their own son Jeff and his devastating Ponzi scheme that cost them their entire retirement savings and their standing in the community. Host Angie Richey definitely offers help when the family awkwardly comes together for the first time to confront Jeff, who is now out of prison and trying to pay $3.46 million in restitution to 37 investors.

“Anything is possible in a highly charged emotional moment,” Shapiro says. “Having a trained therapist there who helped was essential. The fact that she also happens to be an ordained minister on top of being a marriage and family counselor is just great.”

Juan Romero — The Bus Boy Who Held Robert F. Kennedy After He Was Shot
The fourth story focuses on a man looking for forgiveness from himself. In 1968 Juan Romero was a 17-year-old bus boy at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed. Juan had actually just shook the Senator’s hand as he made his way through the kitchen out through a back door, he was also the young boy featured in an iconic photograph kneeling over Kennedy’s body holding the back of his head. Richey works with Juan over his guilt for not being able to stop the killing believing that if he didn’t reach out to shake his hand, maybe RFK would not have been shot.

“The Juan Romero story, of course, is in a league by itself,” Shapiro says. “Here’s a man outside of his family and friends, nobody even remembers him accept that iconic photograph.  Nobody in 2012 is asking who is the young man in the photograph holding Bobby Kennedy’s head and what is he doing now? We did. We asked that question and we found him and he lived with the pain of this and feeling some guilt and wanting forgiveness from somebody that can’t give it. As Angie helps him realize, he really needs to forgive himself. After we finished filming the next morning he said to us, ‘I went to bed feeling truly free for the first time. I slept 14 hours. I never do that.’ I think he turned the corner. I wished this show and we had found him 25 years ago.”

I Forgive You certainly powerfully demonstrates that “forgiveness is a gift to yourself,{ something viewers can  viewers see that the power of forgiveness is sometimes a gift to the person granting

I Forgive You airs:
Sunday, Nov. 18 at 9pmET/6pmPT
Sunday, Nov. 18 at 10pmET/7pmPT
Sunday, Nov. 18 at 11pmET/8pmPT

Wednesday, Nov. 21 at 9pmET/6pmPT
Wednesday, Nov. 21 at 10pmET/7pmPT