An Interview with Skyler Rich

 

Forgive Everyone builds understanding for the human experience of formerly incarcerated individuals. We had the opportunity to ask the founder, Skyler Rich, a few questions.

 
 


What is the message you deeply believe in, and are spreading through your company?

“The message that I deeply believe in and have woven into my company is the idea that every single person is redeemable.

I truly believe there exists no one that is entirely beyond the scope of supernatural OR human redemption. I believe this realization gives way to a view of individuals as complex human beings which allows us to forgive them more easily.

In my opinion, forgiveness is KEY to progress as a society. The alternative to forgiveness is bitterness, division, and hatred. These alternatives are currently tearing our nation apart and will continue to do so unless there is somewhat of a culture and mindset shift towards forgiveness.

The second we are able to stop demonizing the "other" and see them as a redeemable human being capable of good, we are able to open ourselves up to a new level of peace and unity centered in a radical affirmation of humanity.”

 
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How have you come to recognize the kinship between you, and those who you’ve come across in building this company?

SO many ways; beautiful and unexpected. When I began this company all I knew was that I wanted to help people coming out of prison in some way. This was a noble cause in my eyes however as I started down the path I realized I had never even met someone who had been in prison.

All I was doing at that point was selling a shirt with a message and donating money to non-profits who were actually on the ground. I realized this needed to change. I put out an ad on craigslist simply asking if anyone was formerly incarcerated and would like to meet with me to talk about their experience. I had a few replies and started having meetings downtown with various individuals. This prompted me to begin asking to record and share their story and take their photos which has now become a core part of the business: Storytelling.

Every individual I meet with or get on a call with has an incredibly complex and beautiful story rife with pain, joy, success, failure, and triumph. Each story I hear, no matter how different the persons background is from mine, I can relate to. There is a basic level of common humanity in each and every individual and that is shown clearly through the art of vulnerable storytelling. After each call or meeting I walk away with a new insight on what humanity is and who I am. I feel a sense of connection and a bond to each individual because of the level of trust and vulnerability necessary for us each to share our stories with each other.

 
 
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What is one story that ties into what you answered above?

One story in particular is the story of a man named Steven. I met Steven in October of 2018 from that aforementioned Craigslist ad. I listened to his story, took pictures of him and his dogs, and talked with him for over an hour. We exchanged phone numbers and met up again a couple weeks later to get some more photos.

Then a month later we got coffee and played chess at a local 24 hour coffee house in Grand Rapids called the bitter end. He had talked about in his story how he loved chess and I suggested that we play sometime. That 1 game turned into 2, then 3, and 4. A couple of these games lasted for 3+ hours because we would each make one move and then just talk for 20 or 30 minutes before moving again. We have developed a close bond over the year. He texted me and met up with me in grief when his dog, his best friend, passed away. He introduced me to his wife and we all went out to the comedy club he frequents. At the club the opening comedian thought I was his kid. Steven got a kick out of that. Steven has late stage kidney disease and he's talked with me about how death scares him so bad. He's talked with me about his frustrations and his joys at home, what he loves and hates about his dad, and what he thinks about current local and world events.

He's become a dear friend of mine. He's like a brother to me. And if people knew both of our backstories they would never in a thousand years guess that we would end up being friends, yet here we are. That's kinship. Forgive Everyone has allowed me to have these beautiful experiences with individuals I never would have come into contact with otherwise. It's changed my life.

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April Chen