In the summer of 2012, Lisa Daniel received the devastating news that her 25-year-old son, Darren, had been killed during a drug deal gone wrong.
In the days that followed, Daniels saw her son defined by his brushes with the law. Her efforts to tackle gun-violence through restorative justice were documented in An American Summer: Love And Death In Chicago by journalist Alex Kotlowitz.
Daniels joined the Morning Shift for more on how she’s working to honor her son’s legacy and heal those impacted by gun violence in Chicago.
On countering harmful media narratives
Jenn White: After [your son] Darren was killed, you responded to the way he was being talked about in the media in a Facebook post. What did you say?
Lisa Daniels: In the Facebook post, I made mention, in summation, that I wanted people to focus on [Darren’s] humanity. I wanted him to be recognized for the human being that he was. He was more than the sum total of the worst thing or the worst decision that he had ever made, and that day he had made a pretty bad decision that cost him dearly, and that cost all of us who love him very much dearly as well. But what was important to me was that he not be defined by that.
On speaking up in court for the man who killed her son
Daniels: I wanted to acknowledge his humanity. I did acknowledge his humanity. I also acknowledged the humanity of his mother, and I took the opportunity to stand in her stead, acknowledging the fact that, had things gone differently that day, he could have died and Darren would’ve been sitting in his seat, having no one to speak up on his behalf…And that was the objective — and to ask that leniency, if at all possible, [in] any form, could be shown. It may sound simple. Someone asked me why would I want to have this consideration for the man that murdered my son, and my response was this: he didn’t mean to. I know that that young man did not mean to kill my son. And my son didn’t mean to die that day.
On joining the Illinois Parole Board
Daniels: On the other side of the most tragic experience of my life, I’ve found a much better version of Lisa Daniels. And because of that, or in alignment with that, I chose to be healed. I chose to not be defined by this experience, and in that doors have opened….And so I get to go into spaces and meet people, and make decisions based on the information that’s in front of me about whether or not their parole will be resumed or revoked. And it doesn’t always go in their favor, and what I get to do in that space is I get to do the thing that I’ve talked about from the moment that I sat in this chair: see the humanity of the person that’s sitting across from me. I think that’s another space — our criminal justice system is another space in which we are lacking in humanity, in seeing the humanness of the person that sits across the table, or sits in a seat of judgment. And so I get to make a decision that says maybe, quite possibly based on the information that I have, based on the offenses that have occurred while you were out on your parole or your mandatory supervised release, that you will no longer be able to be out but you will have to be remanded to…custody. But I get to do that with love.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity by Char Daston. Click play to hear the full conversation.
GUEST: Lisa Daniels