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A Florida woman survived a brutal attack by a young man who broke into her home and beat her until she was nearly unconscious. Then she forgave him — and advocated for him to avoid prison time.

It was Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 7, 2016, and Mandy Bass was at her computer and getting ready for the week ahead at her new home in Melbourne, Florida.

“All of the sudden I heard the sound of a lot of glass breaking from the other side of the house,” she tells PEOPLE. “I figured that the mirror in my bathroom had fallen.”

She was in no rush to clean up the mess, so she finished an email before making her way to where the sound came from. It was there, from out of the shadows, that a young man walked out.

As he came toward her, ready to attack, her first thought was that “he looked so out of place.”

“He didn’t look like a hoodlum,” recalls Bass, now 56. “He was well dressed, and his face — with the exception of his eyes — looked soft and innocent.”

The next thing Bass knew, that man — who she would later learn was a straight-A college student named Kevin Jackman — was punching her in the face. Down on the floor, she drifted into unconsciousness. (Jackman’s attorney did not immediately return PEOPLE’s calls for comment.)

“The voice in my head said that if I didn’t get out right now, he was going to kill me,” she says. “I was going to die and no one was ever going to know what happened to me.”

As he kicked her in the ribs and the back, he began yelling, asking her if she “believed in the forgiveness of Jesus Christ,” she recalls.

At one point, she says, Jackman seemed to come to his senses and apologize — but then he reverted back into a violent rage.

Despite her severe injuries — which would end up consisting of a broken arm, a concussion and head injuries that required staples, along with severe bruises — Bass had enough strength to escape, sprinting out of the house after Jackman lost his balance.

Outside, she was shocked to see police cars up and down the street because she hadn’t called 911.

“It was swarming with police,” she says. “What had happened was that they had been chasing this young man.”

Bass was taken to the hospital and soon discovered that Jackman, a senior at a local college who had a perfect record, had taken LSD the day before, which put him into his violent state.

“My journey began there,” she says. “I wanted to know more about him.”

Her Path To Forgiveness

In Bass’ new book, Taming The Tokolosh: Through Fear into Healing — A Trauma Survivor’s True Story, she talks about her journey of recovery both physically and mentally.

“Healing is a process,” says Bass, who suffered from PTSD. “In the beginning it was very difficult.”

Two days later, while Bass in the hospital, she received a call from the police telling her that Jackman had been let out on bail. The thought terrified her, she says.

Jackman later talked to a friend who worked at Jackman’s college. The friend asked her if she was sure she had identified the right person.

“She said that she had a meeting with him last week and that he was so charming, well-spoken and well-dressed,” says Bass. “It was very bizarre for him, and made me very curious about him.”

Local prosecutors spoke with Bass, seeking her input on which charges to pursue.

“I wanted to be thoughtful about it,” she says. “If he went to prison with all of these other hardened criminals, then he is really going to do something bad to someone else if he gets out alive.”

When Jackman’s lawyer submitted a request for mitigation to the court in the summer of 2016, Bass told her lawyer that she wanted to meet with the suspect. Months later, in November, the pair came face to face for the first time since the February attack.

“In the mitigation request he had said he didn’t remember what had happened,” she said. “I felt it was necessary to walk him through the events and hold him accountable.”

As Jackman walked in, she felt faint and said hello. To lighten things up, she said, “You don’t look nearly as scary as the last time I saw you.”

She could see him start to shake. Then he started to sob.

“I put my arms around him and he sobbed in my shoulder,” she said. “We just stood there for a long time. I held him and told him that I forgave him and that God forgave him, and that it was all going to be okay.”

Bass called the encounter “one of the most incredible moments of my life,” and says it’s hard to put the full meaning of it into words. For the next 90 minutes or so, she recounted the trauma of the attack, and he told her about his childhood and his life.

After that surreal meeting, Bass felt like “all the barriers between us had just disappeared” and that they were now “cells of the same organism.”

Subsequently, she dedicated herself to keeping him from going to prison.

“I had to help him,” she says. “He was a good person and had done something terrible. I just felt love. I don’t have kids, but I had this maternal feeling.”

She advocated on his behalf, and ultimately, he received a punishment of probation. If he complies with its terms, a judge would have the discretion to wipe his record clean.

Since their meeting, Bass and Jackman have become friends. They speak often and have had dinner together.

“I’m like his mentor,” she says. “He has since moved to Atlanta for work but when he comes to Melbourne, we’ll get together. He’s such a creative and talented bright young man. If I had a son I’d want him to be like that, with the exception of what had happened.”

She adds: “Forgiveness heals when we are able to let go of anger and resentment. He deserved a second chance.”

a person standing posing for the camera


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