Hashim Garrett was a black youth living in New York, who was shot and paralyzed from the waist down.
Charles Williams was white and grew up with an alcoholic mother, and suffered mentally and spiritually, long after he left home and became a police officer.
Their bond: they both harbored anger in their hearts for years before they freed themselves through giving forgiveness. Garrett forgave his attacker and Williams forgave his mother, who later died of cancer.
The two men addressed St. Joseph High School students recently, through a non-profit called "Breaking the Cycle," which seeks to prevent violence by promoting forgiveness.
"It doesn't matter how long [life] is, it's how you live it," said Ian Winter, head of the group.
The group has been touring high schools for 15 years, stressing "honest communication and forgiveness as a way of resolving conflicts and easing the tensions that linger afterward."
"If you forgive, it's about you, not about the perpetrator," he said.
Hashim Garrett had shot another youth ro prove how tough he was. Then, at age 15, he said his friends set him up to be shot.
As he told his story, he hobbled back and forth on crutches, braces supporting legs. One foot stuck out at an odd angle.
In 1990, as he walked down the sidewalk with his friends, all but one crossed to the other side of the street. His companion shouted, "run!" and shots rang out. Garrett was hit in the legs and back. His said his pants rippled with the force of the six impacts.
He fell to the ground, unable to move or feel his legs and bleeding profusely. Then he started to go blind and deaf from blood loss. He prayed to God to save his life.
"I had never felt peace or tranquility until that moment. I'm laying on the ground bleeding out of 12 holes," Garrett said.
By the time the ambulance arrived, he wanted to sleep, but that was the last thing rescuers wanted him to do. Still he felt himself leave his body and travel downward, and he didn't like where he was going. His terror was "1,000 times" worse than any he had felt before.
Then his mother's voice called him back. In the hospital and throughout his rehabilitation, he was angry at his shooter and "really pissed off with God." He refused to identify the shooter because he wanted revenge.
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After deciding to forgive his friends and the shooter, true healing began, Garrett said.
Today Garrett is married with two children and says he is blessed to travel around and speak to youths.
"There was anger, pain inside of me that only forgiveness could help," Garrett said. Referring to his injuries, he added, "Please don't feel sorry for me. When I was a teenager, I was pretty bad and I have to live with those consequences."
Charles Williams became a police officer because he wanted to help people who could not help themselves.
He was trying to save those who had experiences like he had. He recalled dinners where his mother would stagger around the dinner table after drinking too much and fights between his mother and his father.
But he ended up far from where he started. "Don't ever think that you understand what the rest of your life is going to be like. Hashim and I are living proof that anything is possible," Williams said.
Williams retired from the police department and now teaches at the New York Military Academy. He didn't think he would end up in a better place as a child.
"Hate and anger: That I can tell you about. There are wounds you can see and wounds you can't see," Williams said.
"Mom was a raging alcoholic," he began. "My mother loved alcohol more than she loved me."
He recalled making her drive him to the store to pick up a present for a party he was attending. Another time, she had fallen asleep holding a lit cigarette and had burned the carpet.
Williams' social life fared no better. He wore the same two sets of clothes and wore large metal braces to straighten his buck teeth. He stopped brushing his teeth and showered about once a week. He walked with his head down in school.
"Nobody cared," he said. Many children laughed at him. "I was the kid you all made fun of," he said. Williams also got him into trouble as a youth.
Hate and anger "ate me alive. For 35 years, I carried hate and anger for my mother," he said.
Those feelings hurt his marriage and his family, and he admitted he could have been a better police officer had practiced forgiveness sooner.
He contemplated suicide several times. Then, one night, he was despairing when a voice said, "I'm not ready for you yet."
When he finally forgave his mother, she had been sober for 30 years and had quit smoking 15 years ago, though now she suffered from emphysema. He saw her as an old woman, not the "dragon" woman she had been in his youth.
Then cancer struck, and he watched her die. Williams was able to be with her in her last moments, even when she was mostly bald, down to 80 pounds and blind, paralyzed and mute.
But before she died, "she stroked the back of my hand three times. I never would have had the moment that had I not forgiven her so many years before," Williams said. "I think of all the moments I lost."
"I am blessed," he concluded.
Williams also credited another person with saving his life. In eighth grade, he met another youth and they watch Monty Python together regularly.
"He saved my life and he doesn't even know it," Williams said. "I'm going to tell him that I love him."
The former officer encouraged students to reach out to those who are suffereing.
"You have a choice: kick him or pick him up. Save his life," Williams said.