Stories | Countries | USA | Hashim Garrett

Photo by Louisa Hext

Hashim Garrett was 15 years old and living with his mother in Brooklyn when he was shot six times causing him to be paralyzed from the waist down.

May 7th 1990 seemed like any other day but my state of mind wasn’t good. I was smoking weed, drinking and not wanting to attend school. I had this evil streak in me. I was so angry, and because I was hurting I wanted to hurt others.

That evening some friends called for me and told me not to bring my gun which I assumed was because they didn’t want me to get arrested. I thought they cared for me but in fact they had a plan to have me killed. They were trying to teach me a lesson for being too confident.

One bullet hit me in the spine and paralyzed me instantly. I remember yelling, ‘I got shot…I got hit’. I knew something was terribly wrong. With that one bullet the cycle of harm came back to haunt me because six months prior to this shooting I had shot a kid over drugs and now it was happening to me.

I could hear the Police and I could hear neighbours gathering and saying ‘he’s dying’. All I wanted was my mother. I wanted to be held and not die with my entire community staring at me. It was so strange because at the same time as feeling all this fear I could also literally feel evil leaving my body. I had been this angry person who wanted to hurt people but as soon as I hit the ground there was no anger left. That tough kid just vanished.

I spent six months in hospital and that was where the real paradigm shift happened. I had plenty of time to look at my life and I realised that I had hated everyone - my mom’s boyfriend for being a violent alcoholic, my mother for not walking away from him, and my dad for not saving me. And of course I hated myself too. I’d been a kid with a loving family and a good environment but had chosen to embrace anger and hate.

It was my mom who told me that my spine would never repair. I was sitting in my wheelchair and as she told me she handed me a Bible. “I think this may help” she said. I thought she was mad but I read it anyway and learnt about forgiveness.

When I left hospital I was home schooled, I went to physical therapy three times a week, and was with my mom constantly. We really connected during that time. She lived in this world of denial, always believing I could go to college and live a great life. That’s one reason why I am where I am today. She got me to never believe that I was disabled.

I wanted to be an investment banker but in college I lost my way because of the temptation of weed, alcohol and women. I skipped class and eventually was put on academic probation. I knew I was screwing my life up and my mother told me to ask God what I was supposed to do. The very next day I got a call asking me for the first time to tell my story to kids teaching violence prevention. I realised then that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Helping others became my healing.

Forgiveness began in the hospital. As my friends were seeking blood in revenge, I’d tell them to let it go because I knew that violence wasn’t the answer. Later, I was asked by Breaking the Cycle to talk in schools about forgiveness.

I soon found out that forgiveness was the hardest word to say in public.

At first the words sounded so strange in front of inner city kids but I knew Ghandi and Martin Luther King had both talked about forgiveness and so they became my mentors. The more I understood what they had said about the power of forgiveness the more I knew it was my path.

Nowadays when I talk about drugs and gun control to young people I always talk about forgiveness too. I always tell them that forgiveness is extremely difficult. It takes more courage to be non-violent and forgiving than to be violent. I also tell them that what happened when I was 15 taught me that hating turns you into a hateful person. I hated violent, abusive people and so I became violent and abusive. I hated bullies and so I became a bully. Hate holds on to you whereas forgiveness frees you, and if you want to forgive others, then first you need to learn to forgive yourself.

Our family was destroyed by the murders of three people in one night – my sister-in-law Connie and my two nephews Allen and Bobby, 16 and 14 – cut down by the hatchet of a madman. It was obscene, painful, heart shattering. At the time I could never have known this tragedy would be a call to love.

Today, Hashim is married with two children, and dedicates his life to working with youth and promoting peaceful solutions to violence. To learn more about Hashim's work, visit hashimgarrett.com.

Breaking the Cycle is an award-winning assembly program that stresses honest communication and forgiveness as a way of resolving conflicts and easing the tensions that linger afterward.

Stories | Countries | USA | Hashim Garrett | Questions | Themes