Small Group Tools
Contemporary Comments 2010
Scripture: 1 Samuel 25; Proverbs 14:33; Isaiah 28:23, 53:12; Daniel 9:15-19; Matthew 15:10; Romans 8:34.
For 22 years Alan Newton was a victim of circumstance. In June of 1984, a woman who had recently been beaten and raped looked at nearly 200 photos of possible perpetrators and pointed to Newton. She also identified him two other times: in a lineup and later at the trial.
Yet all along Newton maintained his innocence. He claimed that on the day of the attack, he was at the movies with his fiancé, her daughter, and other relatives. Afterwards, he said he went to his fiancé’s house. In 1994, ten years after the crime, Newton had asked for DNA testing. It was issued but the kit used was somehow misplaced and wasn’t found until 2005. Once found, the genetic tests proved what Newton had claimed all along—he was innocent.
“It’s been a long time getting to this point,” Newton told msnbc.com in a telephone interview last week—after five years of living in freedom. “I’m still going through mixed emotions because I always felt that this should have been taken care of a lot earlier.” 1
Rather than live out the rest of his life as a victim of circumstance, the newly freed Newton decided to rise above it. He enrolled at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and currently has a full-time job at City University of New York’s Black Male Initiative. And he’s perfect for the job of recruiting, retaining and assisting black men in college. He also lives in his own apartment in Manhattan, and hopes to enroll in law school soon.
But his story gets even better. Because his case was so badly botched, last week a federal jury in Manhattan ordered the city of New York to award Alan Newton $18.5 million! The jury believes that the city violated his constitutional rights, and that two officers involved in the case did not produce the evidence when he requested it back in ’94.
The feeling of freedom is wonderful for this man who was once serving up to 40 years. “It validates that my struggle was valid. It validates that corrections need to be made. It validates that there’s more people out there similarly situated that are still locked up…and they’re still living with the stigma.”
The Old Testament character we studied, Abigail, also refused to be a victim of circumstance. Having no choice in the matter of whom she married, she found herself with a selfish, unkind man who drank too much. When he refused to give aid to David and his men, David decided to wipe out Nabal and his people. But Abigail wasn’t about to simply stand by and watch those she cared for killed due to her husband’s greed. She took the initiative and went to David herself, bringing what he’d requested, while urging him to avoid more bloodshed.
Like Alan Newton and Abigail, we have a choice when damaging circumstances come our way. Once victimized, we can choose to stay a victim or become a survivor. Therapist Michael V. Cohen, Ph.D, suggests this step, among others, towards healing: “Try to find some deeper meaning in what happened to you. True, you were victimized but you can become a survivor. Survivors often find that changes in their outlook on life are possible, even preferable. What have you learned from your traumatic experience? Record these insights in a journal or voice them in a support group that is sympathetic to your situation.” 2
With the help of God, family friends, a counselor or physician, we can heal the hurts, learn from the scars, and live a deliberate life of peace and joy.