The Power of Forgiveness

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by Ken Walke

Rage surged through Carl Reimann. He went to pluck his gun from his car and shoot the policeman who had pulled him over. After all, he had already killed five people during a bungled robbery at a small-town restaurant an hour west of Chicago.

But when Reimann grabbed the weapon, it seemed welded to the car roof. He gave himself up, and the officer snatched the gun like a feather and cuffed the hardened criminal.

"That’s where God intervened," says the inmate at Dixon, Illinois. "If I would have picked up the gun, I would have died right there."

A miracle yes. But only one of many miracles in the life of this Illinois convict who received forgiveness—not only from God, but from the wife of one of his victims.

In late 1982, Cheryl Gardner traveled to the sprawling complex in Dixon to meet the man who took the life of her husband, Dave. The two still communicate about their service to God—Carl, as a worker in the prison’s hospital program; Cheryl, as a writer and speaker on forgiveness.

"It completely filled in the hole that I carried around for 18 years after my husbands’ death," says Cheryl of personally pardoning the man who left her a 26-year-old widow in 1972. "It was a mountaintop experience. It turned my life around. I never realized I carried around unforgiveness until the Lord pointed it out to me."

Carl recalls that a woman accompanied Cheryl to prison. He believes she came to prove he was a phony. As they talked, Scripture flowed from his memory. "There were four people at the table," he says, referring to Christ’ presence. "That woman said, ‘I don’t believe this is happening."

"I said, ‘If it weren’t for the love of Jesus, you wouldn’t be here. And if it weren’t for Him, I wouldn’t be able to receive you.’"

The breakthrough

Carl Reimann grew up on a farm in north-central Illinois, a dozen miles from the 1972 murder scene. Three months earlier, he had completed a five-year sentence for robbery in Nebraska.

He traces his crime sprees to a hardened heart formed in childhood. The youngest of five children, he once asked his mother if she loved him. She shrugged and reminded him that he had food, clothing and shelter.

"Love is something a child needs to hear," he says. "I learned to live without love. I became withdrawn."

A troubling pattern soon emerged—drinking at age 8; stealing a shotgun at 14; burglarizing a truck stop at 21; finally, serious time in a neighboring state.

Working between sentences in construction, in foundries or on farms, Carl took his bitterness everywhere. Thinking nobody cared about him, he felt little for anyone else. For 14 years after the murders, he shunned contact with other prisoners and left no remorse for his victims or their families.

That changed as Carl, on an impulse, attended a church service in the prison yard. As visitors from a neighboring church led the service, Carl fought uncontrollable tears. He said the sinner’s prayer, but struggled to let go of swearing and smoking. Finally, he knelt and prayed, "Lord, I don’t want to quit smoking; but if You want it, You take it."

"I received the baptism in the Holy Spirit that night," he says. "That’s the only power that could take a 40-year smoking habit away from me.

"When I got up off the floor, it felt like a two-ton weight had been taken off my shoulders. From that day on, I felt free. I had been in chains, doing Satan’s work, but my Lord set me free."

God’s work

Three years ago, the veteran prisoner began working as an aide to Vince Marrandino, an Assemblies of God chaplain who preaches to prisoners several times each Sunday.

Besides duties as a religious library clerk, Carl works with geriatric inmates. Of the first three inmates he assisted, two accepted Christ before they died.

"He is very helpful," says Chaplain Marrandino, noting if someone needs a Bible or Christian literature, Carl goes out of his way to let him know.

The question of prison converts’ sincerity commonly arises when Chaplain Marrandino speaks in churches. Often when asked about this, Marrandino poses the following question: "If an inmate gets out and buys a house next to you, would you rather it be someone who attended services or was in gangs the whole time?"

When Cheryl sees audience members’ tears as she shares her story about forgiveness, she knows God is touching hearts. But her most moving encounter came via a call from a family friend who read about her prison visit.

"If you can do what you did, I can give up the unforgiveness I’ve carried for over 60 years," the caller said.

"I heard a whole new release in her voice," says Cheryl.

The woman had been touched by the same Power that held a gun to the top of a car 27 years ago.