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Crime victims find healing through restorative justice

Oct 15, 2013

From the article by Jasmin Lopez on KALW :

Dionne Wilson's husband, a San Leandro police officer, was killed in the line of duty seven years ago, but she says it took her a long time to find a way to really heal.

“For many years, I carried around so much vengeance and hate. I realized at a certain point I had nothing left. I had no more tools. I engaged in a lot of self-destructive behavior. I tried to buy my way out of my grief; I tried to drink my way out for a short period. Thankfully, I didn’t take that too far. And I just didn’t have a way to move past being embroiled in the moment,” says Wilson.

Wilson initially thought the trial and conviction of her husband’s murderer would bring her some sort of comfort or closure.

“I had this little light at the end of the tunnel,” she says. “I kept thinking, it’s almost over, he’s gonna get convicted. He’s gonna be on death row. I’m gonna feel better. I’m gonna feel better. And then when it happened, and he did get put on death row, I waited, and I waited, and I waited. And I thought, Huh, well, it really didn’t work. I don’t feel better, I feel worse. Because now I’m let down. Now this promise of making it right within our current system, it completely let me down. And so I realized that the only way out of it was a different route. I didn’t know exactly what that was, but that’s kind of a long story.”

Wilson decided to try restorative justice, and specifically a practice called "victim offender dialogue".

She got counseling to prepare her to meet a murderer, someone like the man who killed her husband. In Wilson’s case, she couldn’t actually confront the true offender, because he is on death row and appealing his conviction. So instead, she met with what’s called a surrogate. She says that helped her to begin her healing process. After meeting several surrogates face-to-face, talking about redemption, justice, and the searing pain of loss, Wilson finally felt ready to send a letter to the man who killed her husband.

“I started realizing the value of redemption and forgiveness,” she says. “It took me nine months to get it to him. It took a lot of work, a lot of searching, a lot of phone calls, a lot of begging and pleading. I finally was put in contact with his attorney, who was a wonderful woman, and it actually took me a couple of phone conversations to convince her that I didn’t have any ulterior motives, that I wasn’t trying to cause further harm.

“Knowing that he heard my words, that was really enough to give me so much healing. It was amazing the effect that it had on me and my life. What I really want to say to him is to not give up on the life that he has right now. Because I know that when you’re sitting in a cage and you know you’re going to die there - there’s just no question, you’re going to die there one way or another - that it’s really easy to lose hope and think that there’s no possible way that you can have a positive effect on the world, but I don’t believe that. I believe that he can.”

Read the full article.

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