Thinking outside the fence: when offenders apologize for their crimes

There's a place in cyberspace for just about everything and itâ??s a place walls don't exist.

Now thereâ??s a place where incarcerated offenders can apologize to the victims of their crimes. Itâ??s called the Apology Project. The man behind the website is a felon named Joe Baker whoâ??s serving a life sentence in Tennessee.

Convicted of murder and armed robbery, Baker launched this site with the help of his family, to apologize to his victims. Since 2007 inmates and parolees from across the country have posted their apologies as well.

Baker told NBC25 through written correspondence that the purpose of the Apology Project is, "to act as a springboard for victims and offender dialogue."

But can a simple apology from the confines of a prison really help the victim's family heal?"

"I believe it can,â?? Saginaw County Sheriff William Federspiel said.

Sheriff Federspiel said it's human nature to seek and grant forgiveness, no matter how terrible the crime.

â??I've talked to other victims who've been victims of crime who immediately have forgiven the offender, when at times I would think that would be very difficult for me to do,â?? he said.

Forgiving the offender is an opportunity Saginaw mother Tiffanny Goodman hopes she'll get one day.

Four years ago, Goodman's son Ste'von Goodman was shot and killed when he was running an errand. Police have called it a case of mistaken identity.

"To this day no one has been arrested," Goodman said.

Since March 2009, Goodman has worked tirelessly to solve the case.

â??I've had no closure,â?? she said.

Last year, Goodman wrote a play, "Speak up, Speak out! A Mother's Cry Against Violence," in which she also stars. She included a scene where her son's killer comes forward and apologizes for that fateful day.

â??I relive this moment over and over and over in my mind,â?? Goodman said.

NBC25 showed Goodman the Apology Project, where other offenders have expressed remorse over murder and said sorry to their victims behind the veil of the internet.

"When I first saw the website I thought, â??Wow, redundancy,â??" Goodman said.

â??This is redundant, because I would want my apology in the courtroom the day that the individuals are sentenced for the murder of my son."

In Goodman's play, she gets that satisfaction. Her son's killer is put on trial.

Sheriff Federspiel said, â??At the time of sentencing would be a good time for that apology to come, but the offender has issues to work out as well."

In Joe Baker's case, Baker writes in a statement sent to NBC25, "You have to accept your punishment and you have to understand what you've done wrong.

â??Having that realization, taking responsibility for your actions and then apologizing to their victims is the first step in rehabilitation and reconciliation of an inmate."

â??I want them to know that you took a precious life you took a life that had nothing to do with the strife that you had,â?? Goodman described what she wants to tell her sonâ??s killer.

Until her son's killer understands this, she said, no one will come forward, not to mention apologize for the murder.

"To know that there was some remorse, it would help, but not total healing,â?? Goodman said.

â??Thereâ??s really nothing that they can say that would really help to change my heart, but hopefully they are remorseful."

And whether in person or online, an expression, any expression of remorse is perhaps the first step to reconciliation for the victim and the offender.

Joe Baker's website does not generate any profit.

But a portion of the proceeds from Baker's book, Thinking Outside the Fence, goes to a trust fund set up for his victims. Another portion goes to a scholarship fund Baker set up in honor of his parents. To visit the site, click