Sally Packard had waited seven months to get the chance to talk to the teenager who stole her car, and with it some of her independence.
The car, a 1989 Dodge, wasn't worth much. But it was important to Packard, 76, because she needed it to drive to mass at the Church of St. Peter in Richfield every morning. It also got her to doctors appointments at Hennepin County Medical Center three times a week.
When Packard finally got to meet the boy, 17, in Hennepin County Juvenile Court recently, she started with a quote:
"When we forgive, we don't deny the hurt that we have received. We don't deny that it was wrong, but we acknowledge that there is more to the offender than the offense."
Already, Packard had the boy's attention. But she also had the attention of Judge Kathryn Quaintance and the lawyers and court staff in the room.
Packard went on to tell how she was called to the impound lot several days after the car was stolen and found it totaled and filled with garbage. Her driver's license was gone, along with religious books and a rosary given to Packard by her mother.
Then Packard talked about being a foster mom for about 50 kids, many of them who had been abused and neglected, and how much she empathized with the young man standing before her in court.
"I personally know most of these kids have not been parented, and maybe their parents haven't either, or maybe they got into the wrong crowd, or got into drugs," she said.
"I would like [the teen] to know that I pray for him and the other two [boys who were with him] daily, and that it is not too late for them," Packard continued. "I would also like these boys to think of their own families. Would they want their families to experience what I have?"
"Again, please let [the boy] know that I sincerely care about him, and I am praying for his redirection and rehabilitation," she said. "A good life awaits him, if he will just choose a new path. God bless."
Packard then asked the judge if she could give the young man two stones. One said "Hope," the other said, "A special prayer for you."
The young man took the stones, and began to sob.
"The hurt, I never thought of that," said the teen. "I'm really sorry. I regret this decision. I'm sorry for all of the hurt that I caused you."
"I care. Lots of people care about you," said Packard.
Then Packard did something none of the people in the courtroom had seen before, she hugged the person who had upset her life. He squeezed her hard and sobbed.
By now, everyone in the courtroom was crying. For years, many of them had watched hardened, defiant kids and angry, vindictive victims.
But nothing like this.
Judge Quaintance, known to be stern and no-nonsense, finally spoke from the bench.
"I think many of us have been doing this work for a very, very long time, and I have never seen such a powerful moment in my career," Quaintance said.
"The [teen's] recognition that you had an impact on somebody, that this is not an anonymous hurt, this is a personal hurt," said the judge. "[It] just so happened that you by chance chose as a victim somebody who can change your life."
After court, Quaintance was so moved, she sent me an e-mail:
"It was the genuine concern and love for this kid who stole her car that blew us all away," wrote Quaintance. "It was a miracle."
Packard did not want the teen to pay restitution for her car because he'd lost his job. He did have to pay $500 for another charge, something that worried Packard.
A few days after the court hearing, Packard sat in her small Minneapolis home and talked about the experience. "When the police told me [the car thieves] were underage, I just kept praying for them," she said.
She recalled the hurt in the teen's eyes as she spoke in court. "He was hugging me so hard I couldn't believe it," Packard said. "I felt everybody in that room was affected. I'm not sure what happened, but I call it a spiritual moment. That was God."
Packard said she knows judges and lawyers toil away without praise, and often get jaded because they deal daily with violence and sorrow.
"There is often so much disillusionment," she said. "I found myself thinking that everybody there needed this. Everybody needed the kind of attention that boy got. We all need some source of value in our lives."
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