Twenty-one years ago Michael Rowe killed Wilfredo Colón. Today, Wilfredo's younger brother, Anthony, who was 15 at the time of the murder, is friends with Wilfredo's killer after forgiving him for the murder.
In 2006, Anthony Colón was visiting a friend who was serving time at the Eastern Correctional Facility in Ulster County, New York, when he recognized Rowe across the room. Colón got up, walked towards Rowe with an outstretched hand and a smile on his face, and said, "brother, I've been praying for you. I forgave you. I've been praying I would see you."
On June 13, 1992, 17-year-old Wilfredo Colón was shot thirteen times by three young men who were fighting over drug dealing turf. The corner on which he was shot was outside his family's apartment located at the East River Projects in Manhattan. Michael Rowe was one of those three men. Wilfredo was Anthony's older brother.
Rowe was arrested eight months after the shooting and pled guilty to killing Wilfredo and to another unrelated manslaughter case. He served 20 years in prison and was released the first week of April 2013.
While in prison, Rowe earned a masters degree, married his long-time girlfriend, and had three children.
Anthony Colón also married and had two children. The most significant change in his life came two years after his brother Wilfredo's death – he became a Christian. A friend invited him to church and it was at church that he had an "awakening." All of his rage was consumed by the healing of the Bible. He prayed and ultimately forgave the men who killed his brother. He waited and prayed for the opportunity to meet the men who killed his brother so that he could tell them that he had forgiven them.
Colón credits his relationship with God for being able to forgive.
In 2006 he got that chance when he met Rowe in the prison visiting room. Since that time they corresponded and Colón visited Rowe and encouraged him with his studies. He even surprised Rowe by attending his graduation in 2012 and put Rowe's robe on him.
In April 2013, Colón and Rowe met again at the Exodus Transitional Community Center, which provides "supportive services to formerly incarcerated men and women in order to help them reintegrate into their communities."
Sitting with Colón in the Exodus offices, Rowe said, "God has a purpose for me. God has a purpose for us." Colón said, "Yes, us," smiling.
Exodus was founded by Julio Medina in 1999 and was chosen in 2004 as a signature program by the White House for faith-based post-release initiatives.
Medina told CNN, "To have that kind of support from the man whose brother he killed, that is remarkable. Not only does it lift that cloud of shame that he walks with, but more importantly it allows him to have a second chance with the blessings of the victim's brother."
Rowe told The New York Times that, "It was more painful for me to be forgiven than to know that he was an enemy and wanted to hurt me. That felt better. I could hate him back. I knew why he hated me, and it made sense. For most of us, [forgiveness] doesn't make sense."
With the help of Colón and Medina, Rowe hopes to adjust to life after prison and adapt to living with his family and in a neighborhood he does not recognize since seeing it for the first time since his teenage years.