Forgiveness as a spiritual construct experienced by men serving long-term sentences in Zonderwater, South Africa

This article presents the findings of research conducted on 'forgiveness' as a spiritual construct, religious survival strategy and meaning-giving tool during incarceration. The research was conducted with 30 men serving long-term sentences in Zonderwater, a correctional centre outside Pre...

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Published in: Hervormde teologiese studies Vol. 76; no. 4; pp. e1 - e11
Main Authors: Landman, Christina, Pieterse, Tanya
Format: Journal Article
Language: English
Afrikaans
Published: Pretoria African Online Scientific Information Systems (Pty) Ltd t/a AOSIS 10-01-2020
AOSIS (Pty) Ltd
AOSIS
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Summary: This article presents the findings of research conducted on 'forgiveness' as a spiritual construct, religious survival strategy and meaning-giving tool during incarceration. The research was conducted with 30 men serving long-term sentences in Zonderwater, a correctional centre outside Pretoria, South Africa. A review of literature showed that forgiveness has mainly been seen as something the perpetrator owed the victim and that asking for and granting forgiveness were religious imperatives. However, this study shows that offenders, in the troubled space of incarceration, survived by putting themselves in control of forgiveness. They found peace of mind by granting forgiveness to those who caused them to be incarcerated, whilst at the same time taking responsibility for their own actions. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with the participants. Applying an interpretative phenomenological analysis methodology, the collected data were analysed and the following themes were identified: (1) forgiving those who transgressed against me; (2) the role of politics in forgiveness; (3) God's role in forgiveness; and (4) the effects of forgiveness on the self. This article contributes to an understanding of the construction of forgiveness as experienced by offenders, independent from the traditional victim-offender relations. Living in a troubled, unforgiving space, these men are expected to practice forgiveness by set standards. From their shared narratives, it is illustrated that their spiritual navigation with this phenomenon is not a chronological, time dependent process, but a multi-dimensional, personal journey to self-discovery.
ISSN: 0259-9422
2072-8050
DOI: 10.4102/hts.v76i4.6276