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A need to talk

Nov 08, 2012

by Lynette Parker

“He never talked to us and we were friends.” 

I recently heard this statement several times from a couple whose teenage son was killed in a vehicular accident. The “he” they referred to was the driver of the vehicle who had been their neighbour at the time. Throughout the hour long preconference, they continually repeated their hurt and disappointment that the offender had not offered condolences or talked to them since the accident. That lack of communication just seemed to weigh on this couple as they struggled with their grief. 

A few words of acknowledgement was what they want. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone harmed by crime say something similar. Whether or not they had known the offender or not, many people want some kind of apology or acknowledgement from the other person. 

For me, this is one of the saddest aspects of the criminal justice system. Many times I've talked with offenders who would like to offer an apology (although not all of them). Yet, they are unable to due to warnings from law enforcement and lawyers. The adversarial nature of the system simply keeps people apart. 

This is why I like facilitating restorative conferences. It’s a tough process with lots of difficult emotions. At times, it places me in uncomfortable situations. Yet, it opens space for people who have experienced deep harm -- whether as victim or offender -- to communicate. They can tell their stories, ask their questions, and share emotions. For most of the people I've talked with that type of sharing is an integral part of moving beyond the harms they experienced. 

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