In 1979, at the age of sixteen, Brooks Douglass lay hogtied on the kitchen floor as his sister was raped and his parents murdered by two drifters who broke into their church parsonage and tore his family apart. In the sleepy Oklahoma town where the Reverend Richard Douglass had pastored Putnam City Baptist Church with his wife after a five-year stint in Brazil as missionaries, no one expected that the violence of a home invasion would lead Douglass to become a state senator championing victims’ rights. But fifteen years later, when Douglass confronted one of the men in prison, God intervened in a different way.
Douglass remembers all of the lessons his parents taught him, like how to drive a lawnmower at age twelve or how to take care of himself as a nine-year-old in the jungles of Brazil. But he also remembers that his father was focused on teaching his congregation to forgive, especially his two young children.
“The last sermon he preached, the day before he died, was about forgiveness,” Douglass shared recently. “I was actually standing right outside the auditorium in the lobby. The next day, they were killed and it was on my mind that I needed to forgive the guys who died that. I think that after that, my life went on fifteen years of meandering and it was like I was putting on armor. In the military, going to law school, entering the Senate - I was determined that I was never going to let that happen to anyone else I cared about. Forgiveness was off to the side and I had convinced myself I had forgiven them.”
Douglass walked into the state penitentiary cell where Glen Ake was being held, intending that one of them wouldn’t ever leave alive. Looking back, he realizes that God had other plans, plans that had been in motion in the lives of both men long before Douglass’ senatorial duties led him to that tour, and his spur-of-the-moment decision was murderous with intent.
“I kept him there for an hour and a half,” the former senator remembered. “At the very beginning, I told him that I hadn’t planned it but that I had wanted to see him dead for fifteen years. The first thing he said was an apology for what he’d done, and I pressed him to see what would happen when his guard dropped. About halfway through, he was fighting tears and with his cuffed hands he was trying to wipe his eyes. When he looked up at me, I believed he was as sincere as he could be.”
Walking away from the table in anger, Douglass grabbed the door handle and was about to walk out. But the conviction of God’s presence and plan was a nearly audible experience, and he knew he couldn’t leave.
“When I walked back to the table, I told him that my dad was a minister and that he’d taught me to forgive. It was an incredibly physical event, falling back into my chair sobbing - like my head and body were full of water or poison. It was like my feet opened up and the poison flooded out. It was the first time I didn’t have that weight in fifteen years.
Now, with a new film called The Amendment to share the story of his family’s tragedy, the power of forgiveness, and the need for victims’ rights, Douglass remembers that powerful moment and all of the moments that led up to that place. Scenes in the film, like when he turns his father’s dissertation into a series of paper snowflakes or rocking in a hammock with his father in the jungle of Brazil, highlight the lessons of his childhood that drew him to that moment where he forgave. But writing his family’s story as a screenplay and playing his father in the film were powerful experiences he could have never quite imagined.
It was not until the crew was in pre-production that it hit Douglass about how powerful it would be to film his own father and mother’s death, and his own shooting. Remembering the scenes in mirror images, the real life experiences and the actions of the cast like Mike Vogel who plays Brooks, it highlighted the power of what happened.
The writer, star, and inspiration of the film, Douglass admitted that it was powerful the night they shot the murder scene. “After Mike [as Brooks] kissed my forehead [as the senior Douglass], my wife walked up to Mike and said, ‘I couldn’t believe you remembered it?’ Mike was like, ‘remembered what?’”
“I’d never told Mike those details. I had tried to untie my father and mother with my teeth because my arms were pinned behind my back. But when I realized I couldn’t untie my dad because his hands and feet were up under him, I tried to tell him that Leslie and I were going to be okay, and I kissed him on the forehead. It was just so powerful that Mike felt that without even knowing it had happened.”
Now, Douglass is actively spreading a message of God’s love and forgiveness through telling his story. He says that other victims of violence and cruelty need to recognize that forgiveness is a process, a road that they cannot force but that God will bring them to if they genuinely want to find it.
“I think that He commands us to do it but God having created us, understands that we take things in steps and increments, that the pain and hurt are real and they take time to work through,” he shared. “It doesn’t mean that you’ll be completely through it or completed some level of perfection when you get there.”
After a half hour of discussing Douglass’ life and current mission, he never tired of sharing the story or explaining how God had worked several miracles in his life. Convinced that this was his message to share, he wants to make sure that those who hear his story understand that God will work good in the dark situations they may find themselves struggling to overcome.
“I mean when I finally forgave him, everything looked great on the outside - being in the senate and being a lawyer - but I was getting a divorce, I was financially broke, and my life was in shambles. No one else knew that, but I did. I was having a hard time figuring out what kept driving me to do things or not doing things that kept my life in chaos. I had became a workaholic - up early, up late, always taking on one more thing.”
“Eventually, God slowed me down and put me in the position of dealing with it face to face, head on. I didn’t know i was ready until I let go of the door handle and went back to the table.”
Sometimes, the steps toward healing begin with letting go.
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