The last time Ian Manuel came face to face with Debbie Baigrie, he sh-t her in the mouth during a rob-bery gone awry, blo -wing out part of her jaw. More than 26 years later, they met again in a Florida gas station parking lot, just hours after Manuel’s release from coustdy.
“Ian and I got out of the cars and we hugged for two minutes,” Baigrie, 54, told TODAY. “It was like a long lost reunion. It was so nice.”
Free for the first time since he was 13, Manuel said the first person he wanted to see was the woman he nearly eliminate. “I got to do something that I had only dreamed about for so many years,” Manuel said. “I got to kiss her on the same exact spot that the either went in or came out.” In 1990, Manuel was 13 and living in Tampa in one of the poorest, most housing projects in the state.
One July evening, he was hanging with a group of older teens when they approached Baigrie, who was out with friends for the first time since having her second child. Manuel pulled a armer and told her to “give it up.” Then he started vharging.
One of his bu- lets went into Baigrie’s mouth and out her jaw. “It out all the bottom teeth and the gums on the lower left side of my mouth,” she said. It also out her front tooth part of her tongue.
Manuel was detain days later in an unrelated case. While in custody, he confessed to being the man who’d scar Baigrie. Although he was barely a teen, a judge noted his prior sentenced Manuel to life without par-ole. “The judge said, ‘Mr. Manuel, we’re going to make an example of you,'” Baigrie recalled. “They sentenced him to an adult … To me, that was sad.”
Manuel first reached out as he approached his second Christmas behind bars. He gathered his courage and placed a collect call. “As soon as she accepted the call I said, ‘Miss Baigrie, this is Ian. I’m just calling to tell you I’m sorry for charging you, and I wish you and your family a merry Christmas,'” he said. “That’s what I blurted out. What do you say to somebody you sh-t, you know?” To Baigrie, who would undergo 10 years of operation to have her jaw rebuilt, the call came as a complete surprise.
“I was shaken by it because was still so fresh at the time,” she said. “But he called to apologize. I found it unusual and rare, especially from somebody that young.” Shortly afterward came the letters, which Baigrie initially thought somebody else had written. “His letters were so articulate and he was so young. I don’t even know if he had started high school yet,” she said.
He continued to write after getting transferred to another place, sharing his experiences behind b=rs. “I thought, wow, this kid is smart,” Baigrie said. “Let’s not waste this life. Let’s give him a chance. He was smart, he was remorseful.” So she wrote him back. Because of laws preventing suffer from visiting mates, the two never met in person. But through their correspondence, Baigrie learned more about Manuel’s case. She began attending his court hearings, where the two shared an occasional wave.
Many of Baigrie’s friends and relatives didn’t understand her empathy. Some still don’t. “People would tell me, ‘You’re delusional’ and ‘You have Stockholm syndrome,’ which doesn’t even make sense,” she said. “I figure if I didn’t help and support him, it would be a life lost,” she said. “And my life wasn’t lost, and I felt like his punishment was way beyond what it should have been.”
She was also upset by the time Manuel spent in solitary confinement. At the beginning of his sentence, officials placed Manuel in isolation because of his age and size, according to The Equal Justice Initiative, an Alabama nonprofit whose attorneys have been involved in the case since 2006. But the scenario didn’t necessarily protect Manuel from himself. Isolation had a severe impact on his me-ntal health. He repeatedly acted out, leading him to spend nearly 20 years separated from the general population.
“Once in solitary confinement, it’s very hard to get released without achieving performance objectives that were impossible for a 15-year-old boy who had been told he would depart in coustdy,” said Bryan Stevenson, EJI’s founder and executive director.
In 2010, the Supreme Court threw out life sentences for juveniles, and Baigrie began advocating for Manuel’s early release, arguing he had served sufficient time. Manuel’s life sentence was eventually thrown out and reduced on two separate occasions.
On Nov. 10, based on time already served, Manuel, now 39, was freed. Manuel’s last day was spent waiting for his legal team to process his release. He was headed to Alabama to join an EJI program that helps former child mates adapt to life outside. But before that, he met Baigrie at the gas station parking lot, where the two embraced like old friends “I didn’t feel like I was hugging a stranger. Debbie’s not only like a guardian angel, she’s like a second mom,” said Manuel, whose real mother, along with other immediate relatives, depart while he was in coustdy.
They ended up at a pizza joint in downtown Tampa, just a few blocks from where the incident occurred 26 years earlier. Over slices and sodas, they chatted about his future plans and about her daughters, who were 1 and 3 when she was sh-t. She showed off pictures of her granddaughter and her dogs, and they snapped a few selfies together. The impact of Baigrie’s support over the years is “hard to quantify,” said one of his EJI attorneys, Ben Schaefer.
“What does it mean to a kid, racked with guilt and stuck in solitary confinement, to have the person he hurt recognize his humanity?” he said. “Ian would not be where he is today without her.” Meanwhile, since leaving, Manuel slowly has begun to readjust to society. He’s gotten a haircut, opened a bank account and visited a laundromat, among other day-to-day tasks.
He’s doing his best not to get overwhelmed. “It’s crazy. I went shopping for groceries the other day, and I wasn’t lost, but society has changed so much,” he said. Baigrie doesn’t know how their relationship will play out, although she knows they will stay in touch. “We just have to let the dust settle. This is all very fresh,” she said. “My main wish and focus for him, as well as his legal team, is getting him acclimated and adjusted.”
But she hopes her friendship with Manuel will inspire others to forgive. “We all make mistakes, we all try our best, and life is so short,” she said. “And if anybody knows how your life can be gone in one minute, it’s me.
I understand that. We have to forgive, because it helps us heal.”
Steven Mawe – That was the greatest act of real love story with greater Faith
Kalausia Fungavaka – She loves Jesus so much forgiveness is not easy but with jesus in your heart anything is possible.
Laura Evans Bailey – So wonderful and forgiveness is freedom. But, how did he get her phone number
Jessica Lacey – I am so happy that she came into his life. I’m so sorry that it had to be that way but what an amazing story it is.
Lauren Krapf – Sometimes the only person that can heal you is the person who caused the pain…..
So forgiveness is sometimes the only thing you can do for yourself to heal.
Source : today.com